Friday, October 28, 2011

A Wochedikke Shabbos

Shabbat lights

Most residents of North American and Europe are currently taking deep metaphorical breaths as they prepare to plunge headlong into "the holidays". It's a time of food, decorations, gifts, family, travel, maybe church.Expectations and stress levels are headed sky-high, and levels of depression increase as well.

For those of us who take Judaism seriously, that period has just ended. Coming up tonight and continuing through Saturday night we will finally have what my grandfather used to call a "wochedikke Shabbos" - an everyday Shabbat. That is of course a contradiction in terms, as Shabbat is by definition different from the days of the week, but everyone who has rejoiced and slogged in equal measure through the past month can immediately relate. The challah is braided again, and will be sprinkled with salt, not dipped in honey. The Torah scrolls are back in their regular mantles, as opposed to the white ones they have sported since late September. In Israel, even those who are completely uninterested in the religious aspects acknowledge the mythical period of "acharei hachagim" - after the holidays - since during the period of the holidays it is pretty much impossible to have your car repaired or any kind of government document issued. Come back, they will tell you, acharei hachagim and we will see what we can do. Universities don't even start their semesters until acharei hachagim, although regular schools do start in September (and achieve very little until acharei hachagim - which is also true of the Jewish school my children go to). Now that the holidays are over and the sukkah is put away, we can take a deep breath, square our shoulders and start life again - going back to the gym, starting on serious projects.

Strictly speaking, this Shabbat is not entirely "wochedik". It is Rosh Hodesh Heshvan, the beginning of the month of Heshvan - a month also known as Mar Heshvan, or Bitter Heshvan, maybe because it doesn't have any holidays in it (to make up for the overdose in Tishrei, maybe?). There will be special Torah readings and additions to certain prayers. Rosh Hodesh has been traditionally considered a women's holiday, because of their refusal to take part in the sin of the Golden Calf. But it's only a semi-holiday, not of the calibre of the ones we have just come through. We can handle this.

For those who think that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas, trust me, it's nowhere in its league in terms of importance and therefore stress. The real Jewish holiday season has just ended.

Wishing all who celebrate a peaceful Shabbat and a blessed month of Heshvan, and to all who are heading into holiday madness, I wish you strength.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

An Anniversary, Unobserved

October 18th would have been my parents' 58th wedding anniversary, had my mother not died on the Ides of March 2003, five months before her 70th birthday and seven months before their 50th anniversary. Hers was a preventable death - nobody with an education and a middle-class income really has to get adult-onset diabetes and die from its complications. She survived breast cancer and an unrelated tongue cancer (highly ironic as she was a psychotherapist - and that irony was not lost on her). Cancer is a disease that you go to doctors for, and they do things to you to fix it - surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, although thankfully she only had to endure the first two. I have come to think of type II diabetes in adults as the disease of self-love, as the result of unresolved anger and self-loathing, especially among women. To a large extent, it is something you do to yourself. I am not blaming the victim here - I do not think it has anything to do with lack of will or discipline, or any kind of moral deficiency. I think it is a way that women kill themselves, slowly.

This is hardly an earth-shaking conclusion - FlyLady has spoken very eloquently about the connection between depression and self-care, or lack thereof. I must confess, with shame, that I don't know enough about my mother's life to be able to speak with any kind of confidence about the reasons she did not take good care of herself. There was much anger - about choices she could not make as a young woman, about neglectful parents and children who could not fix that need, about babies who died and an adopted child whose own terrible void no one could fill. Her marriage with my father had its ups and downs about which I am certainly not qualified to speak, and I would not breach his privacy here if I could.

I started writing this blog post on October 18th. Between the Jewish holidays (now over until the spring, thank G-d) and the difficulty I am having with these thoughts, it has taken this long for me to write two paragraphs. I think I will stop now, and possibly continue this theme in a series of posts. For one thing, I need to disentangle my own anger at her no longer being here for me and my children, from my thoughts about type II diabetes. I know I've used strong words about it, and I think it is a debate worth having.

I would love to know what you think, so far.

Monday, October 10, 2011

My 15 Seconds of Fame

Assiniboine River Flooding

This post is adapted from my final blog on the CBC website, which you can view in its full glory. While all of those posts are now the property of the CBC, I can't imagine they would object to my paraphrasing some of it here - I'm not Arianna Huffington just yet. There are a lot of names which will mean nothing to my non-Manitoban readers - I've included links where available. The important thing to know is that I'm the kind of geek who thinks the Executive Director of the local food bank is a rock star. I hope you love me anyway.

Wow. I think that one word sums up my experience of election night. I was very fortunate to be one of the invited guests in the CBC’s reaction room, where I was sporadically visible on TV throughout the evening. I am a huge fan of Marcy Markusa, so to be allowed to work with her for over three hours and watch how a live show is produced was a privilege. Alex Freedman, resplendent in a gorgeous tie, was the guy in charge of social media and did an excellent job, despite not putting up any of my son's tweets. Terry McLeod was on the other side of the studio with a panel of commentators. I got to lean on a table with David Northcott and chat with other people I read about in the paper or hear on the radio. I met the amazing young people who participated in the tweetup with Larry Updike a while back and heard their jubilation as Kevin Chief was voted in. All in all, I was like a star struck teenager. My only regret is that I didn’t get to meet Ismaila Alfa, who is also one of my favourite radio personalities.

What to say about the election itself? We all went in expecting a neck-and-neck horse race, and instead, aside from a couple of close ridings, the whole thing was decided in forty minutes. As somebody remarked on Twitter, this looked like an extremely expensive and complicated by-election for the Interlake, where several years of severe flooding could have (but in the end, didn't) cost the NDP the seat. Every single NDP cabinet minister who ran for re-election got in. The NDP was given an unprecedented fourth term and a huge majority. I hope they use it wisely and govern for all Manitobans, as I heard Premier Selinger promise on the radio the morning after the election. The first-past-the-post system can lead to some severe inequities - the opposition PCs got nearly half of the popular vote, but only garnered 20 seats (out of 57).

I was thrilled to see that James Beddome, leader of the local Green Party, got over 20% of the vote in Wolseley, definitely a landmark. My own Green candidate, Alon Weinberg, did not garner as much support but came in third place, more than respectable in a neighbourhood that routinely sends a Conservative to Parliament, a New Democrat to the Legislature and Ross Eadie, who defies pigeonholing, to City Council. It was only right and proper that Jon Gerrard held on to his seat, but I’m sure a leadership review is coming up as the Liberals ponder their future in Manitoba (and their financial prospects on failing to receive 10% of the abysmally low vote).

The resignation of PC leader Hugh McFadyen was swift, but not unexpected. The reaction room was shocked but most of us were not surprised. A few PC supporters said that he should have stayed on to build a strong opposition party that could do better in the next election. Others said that he should resign, but maybe not on the night. My own opinion, which I was fortunate enough to air at the 02:42:50 mark or so into the broadcast, was that he was wise to pull out before the knives came out.

If you managed to slog through all this local politics, I thank you for staying the course. This particular adventure is over (and I even got paid for it! Does that now make me an official published author?) and now I move on to the next one. Any suggestions?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

I'm baaaack ...

Blow the Shofar Horn at TechCrunch50

So many things have happened since my last blog ... sorry I've been so busy, I've neglected my faithful readers! But I will try to make amends. So many things going on, such as my blogging for the CBC, which is now at an end. I'll write more about that later.

One of the things that has been keeping me busy, of course, is the High Holy Days - Rosh HaShanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). In the next paragraph I am going to throw a large number of Hebrew terms at you - each of them has a Wikipedia link but you are absolutely forgiven if you don't bother looking them up. Let's just say that I was busy.

I am fortunate that my family is part of an alternative, participatory minyan and that I often get asked to do things - last year, for example, I led Kol Nidrei, Musaf and Ne'ilah - all the major stuff. It was very exciting but a huge amount of work. This year the guy who usually does those was back, but I got to lead Shacharit on the first day of Rosh HaShanah and Mincha on Yom Kippur. At least, those were the services I actually prepared to lead. Then the Kol Nidrei guy asked me to do one of the repetitions of Kol Nidrei (my husband was already doing one) on a few minutes' notice! I took a deep breath, got my gown and somehow remembered it from last year ... what a rush.

Then our rebbetzin, not only the rabbi's wife but the director and executive producer of the whole service, ended up in the hospital and was not released over Yom Kippur. Our rabbi manfully ran the service by himself but we all pitched in to help. As one of the singers in the group I found myself singing songs and melodies that are normally her domain. We missed her so much and are praying for her good health.

I was also occupied by a 12-year-old with tonsillitis and an 8-year-old who managed to throw up at Junior Congregation on two of the three days. On the positive side of children at services, my 15-year-old attended Kol Nidrei with us for the first time (now that we have a second babysitter in the house) and it was such a great experience to share it with him. Next year I hope to bring all three.

Of course I also ran the 5K Run for the Cure ... but that's a subject for another post. Stay tuned. Thanks so much to all my generous donors! Can't believe I raised over $1000 ...