Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Rabbi, The Lawyer, and the Redhead

The Rabbi, The Lawyer, and the Redhead It had to have been one of the strangest gatherings of dinner companions: 90-year old Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut- one of the leading rabbis of the 20thc and Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple, Robert (Bob) Smolkin, a middle-aged, dignified, very successful Bay St. lawyer and co-founder of the Out of the Cold program at Holy Blossom Temple, and me—a 30-year old mouthy redhead who called the Wheat Sheaf Tavern her second home.

Once a week, for two years, the three of us got together at Rabbi Plaut’s apartment for dinner. It began after Rabbi Plaut’s wife, Elizabeth, needed to be relocated to Baycrest and Rabbi Plaut was alone. I had previously served as Rabbi Plaut’s research assistant in my 20s, and he had developed into a grandfather-figure for me. So, I decided that once a week I would visit him. We would play chess (where he would beat me soundly in minutes) or watch sports.

I met Bob Smolkin through the Out of the Cold program where I volunteered. One night, he approached me and asked how Rabbi Plaut was doing. I told him that he was doing OK under the circumstances, but that I wanted to do more. Bob suggested that he and I should have dinner with Rabbi Plaut to which I enthusiastically agreed. We planned to start the following Tuesday.

On Tuesday morning, Bob sent me an e-mail which went something along the lines of:

Dear Natalie: What were you planning to bring for dinner tonight with Rabbi Plaut? I think my wife, Sheila, has some leftovers in the fridge…some sort of potato item…please let me know your thoughts on this matter. Bob

Dear Bob: I don’t know how to cook. Now what? Natalie

We sheepishly decided the best idea was to procure a prepared chicken from the Loblaws across from Rabbi Plaut’s apartment and some sort of vegetable product that I would magically transfer into a salad, and knowing Rabbi Plaut’s fondness for chocolate, we got 3 brownies.

We brought our groceries up to Rabbi Plaut’s apartment and got to work trying to set up dinner. Of course, being of a certain age, they both thought I, the female, had this under control and were a little confused when I declared that the kitchen was really a foreign country. I eventually got to work making the salad and when I couldn’t find anything to mix it with, I used my hands to the absolute horror of these two refined gentlemen.

We decided to make it a weekly event. Bob would bring leftovers, I would do a Loblaws run and make a salad using proper tools. After dinner, we would watch baseball or tennis, and when Bob and I could convince Rabbi Plaut, we watched hockey. Sometimes, Bob would bring a movie that he thought Rabbi Plaut would enjoy. The one I remember most clearly was about Hank Greenberg and Bob and Rabbi Plaut would reminisce about past World Series and their heroes. Once, Bob organized a private dinner with us and Captain John from Captain John’s Harbour Restaurant and we all got a special tour of the boat.

But the best moments that Bob and I had with Rabbi Plaut were when he would tell us stories about living in Germany. We learned about his parents and his strict upbringing, about the rise of anti-semitism and when he saw Hitler up-close. He told us about his own athletic career which included notable achievements in soccer and tennis. Bob would then talk about his own childhood, his parents to whom he was devoted, his cottage, books he was reading, and of course, his children. Both Bob and Rabbi Plaut enjoyed listening to music from their respective generations which at first made me cringe. “Why can’t we listen to what I want to listen to?” I would ask in mock petulance. “Haven’t you guys ever heard of Echo and the Bunnymen? U2? “Sinead O’Conner?” Once, Bob found some old hats of Rabbi Plaut’s and he put one on and began to do a vaudeville routine. Rabbi Plaut joined in. And I just laughed.

Many times at dinner, I would ask them both questions, one right after another, trying to imagine what their lives had been like and what I could take from their experiences and apply them to my own. I know I drove them both crazy with my “like” after every few words and my “yeah right whatever.” But I was in complete awe of them and I remember feeling so very privileged that I had that quality of time with these two remarkable individuals.

In 2003, I had my first child and that put an end to our regular dinners. Bob continued to visit Rabbi Plaut with regularity even after Rabbi Plaut moved to Baycrest. My own visits with Rabbi Plaut were far less regular, and I did not see Bob for many years until Rabbi Plaut’s funeral in February 2012. This past Friday, I learned the sad news that Bob too had passed away.

I hope that the two of them have found each other somewhere and that they are having dinner together. Hopefully, the chef is better than me.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Guardian Rabbis

"The Guardian Rabbis" by Natalie Fingerhut
in Living Legacies edited by Liz Pearl (2011)

Dedicated to Raphael Marvin Fingerhut (1938 – 1982) and to the other three male guardians: the late Keith Bush who kicked me out of his Grade 10 Geography class and told me to come back when I was ready to learn, the late Professor Joseph Papaleo, writing teacher extraordinaire from Sarah Lawrence College and to Professor Howard Adelman, former Director of the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University, who proved to me over and over again that anything can be accomplished with will and a big personality.

My father, Raphael Marvin Fingerhut (or Ray as he was called) died in a canoe accident that I survived when I was 12-years-old. When Ray looked down at me from heaven − or from wherever they send Jeep-driving, fur coat-wearing, professional wrestling-loving Jewish lawyers − he saw a spunky, rebellious, self-centred smart-ass. As he puffed on his omnipresent pipe, Ray thought long and hard about who was going to be the male role model in his daughter’s life. Who was going to ensure that his daughter didn’t go down the wrong path?

Well, if she’s anything like me, she’s not going to listen to teachers and principals. I'd suggest the Canadian Armed Forces but that could be a threat to national security.

And then it hit him.

A rabbi! A rabbi can look after her! They are trained in this kind of thing, for God’s sake. And no one, not even my crazy kid, is going to mouth off to a rabbi.

Since his death in 1982, Ray made certain that I always had a guardian rabbi. In my teens, Rabbi Steven Garten, former Director of Education at Holy Blossom Temple took the job. In my 20s, there was W. Gunther Plaut, former Senior Rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple, and in my 30s, the current senior Rabbi at Holy Blossom Temple, John Moscowitz, got the call.

If Ray were alive today, he would have written a thank-you letter to these three unique rabbis.

This is that letter.
Dear Rabbi Steven Garten, Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut, Rabbi John Moscowitz:
Before I begin this letter thanking each of you for taking care of my daughter, Natalie, in my permanent absence, you need to know that while Steve called her Nat, Rabbi Plaut used the formal Miss Fingerhoot, and Rabbi M referred to her ironically as Miss Congeniality, to me, she was and will always be “Hut”.

She’s something else, my little Hut. Highly challenging, I believe is the phrase most often ascribed to her. As you know, she still challenges authority and thinks that rules are made for everyone but her. But thanks to each of you, she functions very well (most days) as a full-time editor, a part-time writer, an enthusiastic member of the downtown Toronto Jewish community, and a responsible member of civilized society.

Of all of you, Rabbi Garten, I think we were the most similar: fun-loving, irreverent, and lucky for Hut, very forgiving. I wasn’t sure how you were going to deal with the tri-coloured hair and multiple holes in her teenage ears, but you saw beyond the superficial and saw a bit of a kindred spirit. When she got sent down to your office for betraying her inebriation one too many times, you gave her another chance to stay on at Holy Blossom Temple. Clearly, you understood that after what she had been through, acting out by being drunk at religious school really meant that she needed a little understanding and compassion.

Besides showing understanding and compassion, you also explained to her many times that she needed to stop talking and start listening. While she didn’t have to agree with what people said to her, she had to listen to what they had to say first. No more Miss Know-it-All, no more Miss Smart-Ass. You should know that 25 years later, she remembers your message, especially in her job as an editor where listening to her authors’ ideas and opinions is part of her daily life. She often rolls her eyes – she is Hut after all-but because you reminded her often about the importance of listening, she listens.

Well, Rabbi Plaut, I am not sure what possessed you − an 80-year-old Order of Canada recipient; the author of a widely used commentary on the Torah; a great author, thinker, and leader − to hire my scrappy 21-year-old to research and edit some of your many acclaimed books. I can only guess that even though you both came from such different worlds − the cultural and intellectual centre of interwar Berlin versus the bars on College Street, you are both curious, highly disciplined, and have an off-beat sense of humour and mischief. The time you tricked her into a chugging a glass of vodka after telling her it was just water, I laughed so hard they heard me in hell.

But this is really what you need to know, Rabbi Plaut. This is what I have wanted to tell you for a very long time. After working with you for ten years and later becoming a sort of granddaughter, Hut could never just sit back and watch the world go by. You showed her by example that she had a moral obligation to make the world a better place. You told her that it was not enough for her to study or talk about a problem, she had to do something about it. Whether it was teaching English to victims of torture, or teaching writing to street kids, or sitting on the Board of Directors at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, she hears your gruff, strict, voice every day reminding her that helping others has to be done. You taught her to do good, and so she does.

Now when Hut turned 30, she was doing alright. The scrappiness and rebelliousness still existed but she had matured. Besides, she had a nice, Jewish boy that she had recently married. She was actually pretty happy except for one big issue: she still hadn’t learned how to cope with the loss of her father. And that’s where you came in, Rabbi M. I gave you the tough job. To be honest, I wasn’t sure you were up to it. I mean, you are kind of quiet and reflective. I wasn’t sure how Hut was going to respond to your personality. However, at your Installation as Senior Rabbi, one of your colleagues noted that you “knew how to suffer (and that you wanted) desperately to be a rabbi so that (you could) teach and heal.” That clinched it for me.

Calmly though assertively, you explained to Hut that she needed to stop looking behind at her fractured past and look forward to a stable future. It was fine to think about what she had lost and reflect on it, but it was not fine to get mired in it. She had to toughen up or else she was going to wind up either writing bad Canadian fiction about being a morose fatherless daughter or being an emotional train wreck.

Toughening up was crucial, but more important was when you caught her using my death as an excuse to be ambivalent about her life. Rather than allowing her to get away with that attitude, you shifted her focus back to what was important: marriage, children, professional satisfaction, and writing. Her present and future had to be lived. Her past had to be compartmentalized. You told her that she needed to learn how to live with loss, so she learned to live with it.

To Listen, To Do, and To Live with Loss. Pretty valuable lessons, I’d say. Not bad for a bunch of rabbis. I thereby raise a glass of Chivas (you guys deserve the good stuff) and point my pipe down at you in respect and eternal thanks.
Give her a hug from me when you see her next.

Sincerely, Ray

Natalie Fingerhut received a BA from Sarah Lawrence College-a left-wing loony bin that Ray would have initially objected to but would have eventually admired. She also holds a Masters Degree in History from the University of Toronto and has completed the coursework for a PhD in Genocide Studies at Concordia University − a fact that is a guaranteed conversation stopper at cocktail parties. Currently, Natalie is history editor at the University of Toronto Press in Toronto and a part-time writer. Her work has appeared in Dropped Threads: Beyond the Small Circle, The Globe and Mail, and the Canadian Jewish News, as well as an upcoming short story in Broken Pencil. When she is not playing with words, she is playing with her two children, Raffi and Olivia, and her nice, Jewish boy, Rob Winters, often at the corner of Bloor and Spadina at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre where she proudly and happily sits as a member of the Board of Directors.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Kalamazoo Diaries: Medieval Medicine

Medieval Medicine
“I’d like to see your new book on Medieval Medicine.” The thin voice of a slight auburn-haired medievalist drifted into my ears which were still ringing from the nuns at the next booth shrieking their greetings.

“Sure. Here you go.” We had just published a 600 pager on medieval medicine which had garnered a lot of attention in these early hours.
She positioned herself right in front of my stand and did not move. A minute passed, then another.

Another medievalist tried to access my stand.
“’Scuse me, miss.” He was a southern medievalist who spoke but did not look like a character from David Simon’s Treme. “Ah’d like to buy this here book on medieval birds but you are in the way.”

She didn’t move.
“I can help you over here.” Said Anna.
“Ummmm. Hey. Miss. Can you take the book over to those chairs. You are most welcome to sit and take a look at it over there.”
Nothing. She was catatonic. Her gaze not moving from the chapter on medieval sedation.
“Are you allright, miss? Do you need a doctor?”
Suddenly, she slumped down in front of my stand, curled up in a fetal position.
“My pill box. My pill box. Can you get it for me. Quickly.”
“Where is it?”
“In my purse. Please. I haven’t much time.”

I find her pink purse and dump out the contents. Sure enough, there is a little pearl pill box. The clasp is easy to open and I present her with the pills. Gratefully, she take 2 and downs them. Slowly she gets up, but she is pale and unsteady….

“Listen bitch, give me the fucking book on medicine!”
“Don’t just stand there looking at me, give the fucking book on medicine.”
“I’m sorry, Miss. Are you OK?”
“Shut the fuck up, OK, and give me the fucking book!”
“I can’t just give it to you. You need to pay for it.”
“How much is it...a buck, 4 bucks, a billion bucks...” she opened up her purse and dumped the contents out onto my stand. I noticed two full prescription bottles. Vicotin. Oxycontin.

We had a mad medievalist on our hands. A very high mad medievalist.

“It’s 40 dollars for the book.” I said calmly hoping she would just pay and leave the booth.
“I don’t have 40 bucks, bitch. I have 4 bucks. And that’s what I am giving you.”
Anna heard the commotion and came to the stand.
“What’s the problem, Nat.”
“Look Bitch, this bitch won’t give me the book on medieval medicine.”
“I am not a bitch.” Said Anna. “I referee basketball games with men whose scrotums weigh more than you.”
“Did you just say scrotum?” said a man who clearly had begun the evening mead hour in the early morning. “That reminds me of a little song that I learned at summer camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.”
“Wait...” I said. “I went to camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. Olin-Sang-Ruby. “
“You mean the ole kike camp on Lac LaBelle?” he slurred. “Nah, I’m a good Catholic boy. I went to all-boys camp across from the monestary.”
“Oh honey...don’t sing the Scrotum song. Please don’t sing...” said the high medievalist.

Scrotum, Scrotum,
It's my wrinkly, crinkly bag of skin.
Scrotum, Scrotum,
It's the thing I keep my testes in.

By now, all the medievalists in the Exhibits Hall were focused on our booth. All 3500 of them.

“OK, miss.”
“I am not a ‘miss’, bitch. This guy is my man!”
“OK. So, I can’t let you have the book. You need to pay me for it.”
“How much is it?” her husband asked.
“40 bucks.”
“40 bucks!!! For this? Not happening. C’mon honey, let’s go.”
“I am not leaving this fucking booth without the fucking book!”
“I think you are leaving this ‘fucking booth’ without your ‘fucking book’. Said Anna.
“The fuck I am.” She said and quick as a stoned medievalist can be, she reached into Anna’s breast pocket, grabbed the taser ring and slapped me across the cheek.

“Motherfucker!!” I screamed.
“Motherfucker!!” screamed Anna.

“Take that your scrotum sucking basketball headed bitches!” She grabbed the book and took off toward the exit, her husband stumbling after her.
“What is it my child?” said the steady even voice of Father Whattawaste who was rubbing his elbow and looking down at the fallen medievalist who had just crashed into him.
“I’m sorry for my wife, Father. She isn’t quite herself.” Apologized the husband. “I hope she didn’t hurt you.”
Father Whattawaste kneeled down beside the medievalist.
“Are you Ok?” The crazed look lifted from the medievalist as she looked into the handsome face of Father Whattawaste.
“Are you a movie star?” She asked.
“Nope. Just a former child actor. How can I help you, my child. You seem to have a bit of the devil in you.”
“She takes a lot of pills, Father. Lots and lots of pills. She says they make her happy.”
“There are other ways to be happy, my child.”
“Tell me, Father. Tell me how to be happy.”
“You need to give yourself to God, my child. You need to find the path to Jesus. Only He can save you.”
Anna whispered to me: “Can you believe this is happening.”
Father Whattawaste took her hand and announced to all assembled.
“This woman has strayed from the path of the Almighty. We need to pray for her forgiveness. Join me now outside at the Western Michigan University football field and together, we will pray for her.”

Father Whattawaste carried the medievalist in his arms. A line of medievalists fell into orderly step behind him.
“This is insane.” Said Anna.
“Madness.” I said.
“What do you want to do now?”

So we did. Many, many times over. We passed out on the top of Mount Snorelson to the sounds of the medievalist being baptized in a pond filled with the feces from Canadian geese.

Oy Gevalt

Kalamazoo Diaries.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kalamazoo Diaries: It Begins Anew

It Begins Anew

And then it was evening
And then it was morning
Kalamazoo 2010.

This year, Michelle decided that she would rather go to Montreal for another conference. She claimed that her husband had to interview a 7ft Mennonite guitar player who, according to the tenets of his religion, could play guitar but not dance.

“So, you are trading up Hell with me for La Belle Hell with your hubby?” I asked accusingly.
Michelle’s face was toward her computer screen and I didn’t notice her white headphones.

I walked into my boss’ office.
“Michael, if Michelle isn’t coming with me to Kalamazoo, then who is.”
“I am.” In walked Anna. “I’m going with you. And so help me God, Nat, you are going to behave this year.”
“She’s right.” Michael said. “I don’t want to hear stories about you and monks and Stephen J. Rose.”

Stephen J. Rose. Stephen J. Rose. The pose of the Rose. The tattoo on his exposed flank. K-Zoo 4 Ever. It is all coming back to me now. An entire year gone. A move, a renovation, my son learning to read, my daughter learning to dance, Rob learning how to pick up his clothes, me learning how to brown beef in a pan without setting off the fire alarm---tremendous milestones disintegrating before my eyes and appearing clearly in their stead, the tattoo on the exposed flank of Stephen J. Rose: K-zoo 4 Ever. I feel giddy and lightheaded; the manic giggling about to erupt from my throat.

“WTF!!!” I cried out rubbing my forearm. “WTF!!!”
Anna unfolded her fingers to reveal a tiny disc.
“What the hell is that?”
“It’s a gizmo that is designed to bring you back to earth. When you get that look in your eye, I just have to put this on your arm and it shocks you to your senses.”
“That is not fucking legal!”
“It’s for your own good.” Michael said soothingly. “Really, I asked my brother who deals with people with extreme mood disorders and this sort of mild electric shock therapy works wonder.”
“I’m calling Rob. There is no way that you can do that in this country.”
Michael and Anna looked at each other sheepishly.
“Rob’s on board with this, Natalie.” said Michael.
“There is no way this side of hell that my own husband would acquiesce to this...this...this...TORTURE!”
“Rob, Rob. You are not going to believe this. Michael and Anna are planning to taser me.” My iPhone is on speaker.
“Nat, it’s not tasering. It’s...what did Michael call it...mild electric shock therapy. I did some research on the interweb. It’s fine. In fact, if it works, I might consider...”
“Rob. Have you lost your fucking mind! You can’t taser your wife!”
I looked at Michael and Anna. “I quit!”
“Nat, Rob is yelling into the phone. “You can’t quit. We need the money. We just did a massive reno. Whose going to pay for the six element stove that you don’t know how to use? What about the French door fridge? The Arts and Crafts backsplash even though you don’t know what Arts and Crafts is...or a backsplash? Come on...you can’t quit.”

He’s right. I can’t quit. We need the money. For a moment, I think about a new career writing eloquent pornography, but this is not a realistic plan. What happens if my son sees first drafts all over my office?

“This is wrong.”
“It’s for your own good.” Said Michael. Anna nodded.
“Michelle said you were a mess last year. A mess even by your own unique standards.”
“It wasn’t that bad.” I say weakly.
“It was.” Said Michelle at the door of Michael’s office. “You were that bad. You should be grateful that it’s only mild electric shock therapy. I had suggested that they drug your morning Starbucks.”

Grateful, eh?

Kalamazoo Diaries.

Monday, April 19, 2010

An Open Letter to Overparents

Dear OverParents:

I am leaving your ranks.

Your compulsive need to hover over your children is destructive. More important, it is boring.

You have taken the fun out of parenting.
For six years now, I have watched you behave. I have witnessed your hurling invective at soccer games to an innocent coach who has volunteered their time to help your child have fun. I have watched you reduce underpaid nursery school teachers to tears because your 3-year-old wasn’t reading properly. I have seen you shell out money for a tutor so that your toddler can be ahead of my toddler by the time they hit Grade 1. I see you proudly holding up your child’s mastery of fractions at the age of 5, and I also see in your face the cost of that mastery. I see your tight smile, your hurried walk, your impatience as you talk to your child, your scheduling of endless programs and playdates as you try and create the perfect child that you can live vicariously through.

Yes, my former parent pals, that is the sad source of your overparenting. Rather than live your own life, you have chosen to live through your child’s life and that is not good for him. Your child was not put on this earth to make you happy. He is not the receptacle of your insecurity and unfulfilled dreams.
You realize, of course, that I am speaking from experience. After all, I was once you. I overparented the hell out of my firstborn — applications for private school once the ultrasound was in hand, mountains of baby Einstein CDs, private speech therapy, you name it. And man was I miserable.

When I actually took a breath from all the expensive baby classes and thought about why I was so unhappy, the answer came clearly: I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Each of my pre-baby jobs was more unsatisfying than the next. I had dropped out of a Ph.D program in genocide studies. I had been a technical writer, a management consultant, a university administrator. None of these jobs satisfied. I was completely unfulfilled professionally.

Rather than dealing with that problem, I had thrown myself into my kid’s life. If I couldn’t be successful in the work force, then damn it, I was going to succeed as a parent. All of my energy - some positive much negative - went into my son to no one’s benefit. After a year of this misery, I went to a career counselor and after a few months, figured out that I wanted to be an editor. I went back to school and when my son was 18 months old, I started working again and have been doing so ever since. Rather than overparent, I now underparent, and my kids are better off for it. Sure I find being a working parent to be a tough gig, but it’s my gig and when I succeed, it’s my success and when I screw up, it’s my failure.

So OverParents, here’s the bottom line: You need to back off your kids. Instead of focusing on them, which is easy, you need to focus on you, which is infinitely harder. Are you happy? What will make you happy? Once you have answers to these questions, go out and hire whatever career counselor, shrink, marriage therapist that will put you back on the road to personal fulfillment.

Leave your kids alone. Get a life. Your own life.

Love, Natalie

Women's Post Online: March 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"Hockey: It's MY Game Too"

Hockey: It’s MY Game Too.

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, nice Jewish girls did not play hockey. They figure skated in pink body suits with little skirts and matching furry skate covers and had coaches who were extras on Stars on Ice. As I suffered through endless practices for competitions I had no desire to win, I would stare at the boys lacing up their black sharp skates without their wimpy toe picks and fight back the desire to grab their equipment and pad up with them. Sidney Crosby and I had something in common in those days: we both got up at 4:00am and headed to the rink. There the similarities between us ended. He learned how to skate, shoot and score. I learned the far less exciting figure eights.

I talked axels but dreamed slapshots. At the age of 10, I got a Borje Salming Leafs jersey for Chanukah. On Saturday nights, I watched Hockey Night in Canada religiously. After my parents were asleep, I grabbed the sports section and retired to my walk-in closet to study statistics by flashlight. That was as close as I got to hockey.

Sure it was Canada’s game, but only half its population could access it. None of my gal pals were living Roch Carrierre’s The Hockey Sweater . Even if we secretly wanted to, no one was ‘fessing up.

I lived vicariously through men who played pick-up on Sunday afternoons or in informal leagues across Toronto. I was jealous of their bruised knees and aching quads and the occasional cut on the face from being too cool to wear a helmet.

“Yeah, it was a tough game last night. I got slammed into the boards and my neck is killing me.” I would hear a group of middle-aged Jewish guys kvetching on Monday mornings at the JCC in downtown Toronto.

“You coming out tonight? We’re short on D.”

“Can I come?” I once asked. “I’ve never played before but I used to figure skate. And I’ve watched a lot of hockey. I bet I could pick it up pretty quickly.”

“Sorry. This is intermediate level. No women.”

In my mid-30s, I had the privilege of interviewing the multi-medal winning captain of the Canadian Women’s Olympic Hockey Team, Hayley Wickenheiser, for an article in The Women’s Post. Wickenheiser told me—and the rest of the Canadian female population- that hockey was our game too. “You have the right to play this game,” said the greatest female Canadian hockey player.

In the winter of my 39th year, I walked into Newsome’s Bikes and Skates and traded in my white figure skates for a new pair of Bauer black hockey skates, a helmet, and hockey gloves. Soon after, I stood in the equipment room at Dufferin Grove Rink for my 10:00pm Learn to Play Shinny class. Coach Dan, an actor in his real life, selected a hockey stick from the pile.

“What side to you shoot from?”
“Uhhhh...I dunno. I’ve never held a stick before.”
He held the stick out in front of mine. “Grab it.”
I instinctively took it with my right hand and put my left hand half way down.
“You shoot left.” He winked.

I’d like to say that I got onto the ice that night and scored a natural hat trick, but this did not happen. Instead, I fell on my knee (which I happily complained about for weeks after) after attempting the same backward crosscuts I had done endlessly as a kid.

“When you fall, it’s because you are trying something new,” said Dan.
“It’s not really new. I used to figure skate...”
“This is not figure skating. This is hockey.” He helped me up.
“You’re doing fine. What is most important is that you are not afraid of the puck. You go after it instead of going away from it. Not all new players do that.”

Dan was right. I pursued that puck relentlessly not caring which of the eighteen male or four female players was in my way-although after being smacked around a few times, I figured out which gender was responsible for a given hit by how much it hurt the next morning. Determined to make up for all those years of watching men chase pucks, I skated and fell for four months.

Who cared that I was a black and blue mess . Who cared that I had to crawl on all fours up the stairs to shower after games? Who cared that a U of T law student had to help me across Queen’s Park en route to Women’s College hospital to have my knee x-rayed after one of my male teammates tripped me. Who cared that after a late game, I needed to drink at least two shots of vodka to get my adrenaline low enough to sleep.

Finally, it was MY game too.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Nice Thing to Say about Israel #3

Below is my Letter to the Editor of the Canadian Jewish News concerning the lack of Jewish leadership in Toronto re: Countering Anti-Semitism at University of Toronto. I have attached links to articles on similar subjects. Even if you are critical of Israel (and I would hope you would feel similarily critical of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Myannmar and the list goes on...), I would hope that you would agree that Israel Apartheid Week needs to be challenged.
Where is the Outrage?
Dear Leaders of the Toronto Jewish Community:

I had an unpleasant experience today. As I was walking to a meeting at Sidney Smith Hall at the downtown campus at University of Toronto, a young guy plunked a splashy leaflet into my hands, looked deep into my eyes, and said: “Please, let me invite you to Israel Apartheid Week.”

It took me all of about a nanosecond to look deep into his eyes and pronounce quite loudly: “You are DISGUSTING!” I turned and walked away. No one joined me in my fuss. That the student world of U of T remained glued to their iPhones isn’t shocking. But what is shocking is the seeming lack of any meaningful Jewish protest. I mean really, where are all of you? What were you doing this afternoon as this Anti-Semitic incitement occurs in our publically funded university?

You all know, you rabbis and scholars and community leaders, you know deep in your learned hearts and minds that Israel Apartheid week is not about dialogue or discussion or anti-Zionism whatever the heck that is. It is Anti Semitism and it is directed at you and it is directed at me and at our kids and at our community.

So where were all of you this afternoon? Why when I looked across the street at the Hillel was there no protest being organized? Why weren’t half of you camped out at King’s College Circle in front of the U of T President’s Office demanding that David Naylor ban this week’s activities from his campus. Why weren’t the other half of you on the corner of Harbord and St. George exercising the same freedom of speech that David Naylor gave to the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week?

Why didn’t you all get together and organize a march down Bathurst St. unleashing your thousands of congregants and community centre members and Hillels and get all of us to stand in front of Sidney Smith Hall to sing Hatikvah and then get angry.

Are you that disorganized? Are you that divided? Are you that....afraid?

You implore us every Shabbat and on every holiday to pray for Israel, to be good to Israel, to remember those who have fallen in Israel, but when time came to defend Israel on the streets of Toronto, you are all silent.

Where is the outrage, you guys. Please tell me, where is the outrage.

Where is the page taken out in the Globe and Mail signed by all of you protesting this Week? Where are you on CBC, on The Agenda, on CP24? Where is the sit-in of all the Jewish professors and Jewish students and sympathethizers? Where is the Facebook group that says: Join the Protest against Israel Apartheid Week with a link to a rally that commences with all of you addressing us in front of Convocation Hall calling this poison for exactly what it is and not hiding behind intellectual jargon and infighting.

Surely you know that no one is in love with the Jews these days, so why be quiet. Why not make some noise. At the very least, we can get some of our self-respect back.

Israel Apartheid Week is an outrage that is allowed to happen because we have become mute. As leaders of our fragmented and bored community, you need to get with the program and show some gumption, some spine, some pride. Because right now, I am thinking that the whole lot of you are pathetic. And trust me, I am not alone.

We need you.
Do something.

http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=168320: “Police Probe “Kill Jews” Oxford Chant”
http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=168199 “Michael Oren Heckled at US College”
http://www.jpost.com/Cooperations/Google/Default.aspx?q=israel%20on%20campus “Away with Campus Timidity”

Natalie Fingerhut