Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Niftar: How to attend a funeral when there’s an ocean between you

      Even in Canada, I knew there were two ways of saying a person died: מת/meit and נפטר/niftar. In general, religious people use niftar, even when speaking English – it’s the more polite way of saying it, like “passed away.”

      But when my father died, eleven years ago tomorrow, and a taxi came to take me to the airport, I told the driver we were hurrying because I had to get back to Toronto because “abba sheli meit.”

      There are lots of words you use in religious life that aren’t used so much in contemporary Israeli Hebrew, and so I was just taking a stab at the best possible way of saying it.

      But Israel being Israel, the cab driver decided it was time for a grammar lesson. “Niftar. We say he was niftar.”

      Boy, did I know. (And also – is it my imagination, or only in Israel would a cab driver have the chutzpah correct someone who has just told you their father has died minutes before… ?!)

      These days, I have a habit that makes my 14-year-old daughter (“I’m basically 15”) cringe: telling people my life story. I’ll be standing at the meat counter and the person asks where my accent is from, and I say Canada, and she asks me where it’s better to live, and I say here, and we’re off to the races.

      Out comes the life story, to the best of my Hebrew ability, which isn’t much: living as a religious Jew in Canada, constantly swimming upstream, feeling like I had to

      Monday, December 23, 2019

      I'm Coming Home (before my father's eleventh yahrzeit)

      How often do you lie down with your kids?  When they're little, obviously, it happens all the time, when you're nursing them, or trying to coax them to sleep.  These days, with my youngest kids 12 and 14 years old, I don't really have an excuse anymore.

      But really, why don't we?

      Why not lie down with your kids, cuddle them, cherish them?  Hold onto them not in a way that's clingy and all about our needs, as parents and imperfect human beings, but about them and how special and unique they are?

      Sometimes, when I start out writing about something, whether it's a blog or story or article, I don't know exactly what it's about until I get to the end.  Maybe, if you write, this happens to you, too?

      And then at the end, there’s this "aha" moment, and I realize what was really on my mind the whole time. 

      After I wrote almost this entire post, I looked back and was startled to realize that it probably emerged here and now because of the spectre of my father's yahrzeit hanging over the month of Teves, which starts this coming Shabbos.

      (If you read an earlier version of this post, or look at the URL up top, you’ll see that I originally thought this was the TENTH yahrzeit… but it’s not.)

      So you can keep that in mind as you read.  This is about the present, about me and my kids, but also about ghosts of the past, about me being a kid.

      One of the things that embarrassed me most, growing up, was that my father used to lie down on the floor seemingly at random.  He'd just spread out his arms and sometimes we'd join him, lying down there, even my mother. He didn't have carpet growing up, so he said

      Sunday, October 20, 2019

      Why I don't live in Canada but I still voted there

      In the leadup to Canada's federal elections tomorrow*, there's been lots of talk about whether expatriate Canadians should have the right to vote. 

      * (yeah, I know, super-awesome that they did it again on a Jewish holiday!)

      Last time around, we didn't.  They changed the law to say you could only vote if you'd been gone less than 5 years and intended to return.  We were under 5 years, but couldn't honestly say we planned to return to live in Canada.  So our rights were taken away.

      But this year, in response to a legal challenge from a pair of Canadians abroad, the Supreme Court reinstated our rights.  The 5-year condition, they said, made no sense and hadn't been instituted in response to any particular problem, real or perceived. 

      Still -- lots of Canadians, including some of my beloved family members, don't think we should be voting.  They're not alone.  I don't have statistics, so I can't say most, but I know many people back there feel that we shouldn't get to vote unless we sleep on Canadian soil a certain number of days each year.  And a few days ago, CBC ran an op-ed by Mark Reynolds, an expat who claims, "I don't live in Canada anymore. I shouldn't have the right to vote in its elections."

      As I'll explain below, the Supreme Court disagreed, and I disagreed.  Here are a few reasons why.

      1) Being Canadian didn't stop the minute we moved to Israel. 

      If anything, we became more Canadian once we were here.  All of a sudden, instead of being "the Jews" in our neighbourhood in Toronto, we were "the Americans" in our neighbourhood in Israel -- and, after we explained to everybody, sometimes more than once, that it's not the same thing, "the Canadians."

      It sometimes takes weirdly a long time

      Friday, October 04, 2019

      Mmm... Crispy! Why air-drying towels rocks

      Fabric softener commercials have convinced most of us that the best, maybe even only good way for towels to be is... fluffy.  Just pop them in the dryer with the right product and presto, they're baby soft in minutes.

      But why?  Why is fluffy the only or better way?

      After years of air-drying laundry, I'm going to be brave enough to step up here in this public forum and say it:  three cheers for crispy towels!

      A crispy towel is STRONG.  Sturdy.  Tactile.  Japanese people apparently love the idea of scrubbing off yinky dead skin.  A crispy towel can do that for you.  It can practically

      Sunday, September 29, 2019

      Dear Diversity: Are Jews allowed?

      Dear Diversity:

      I’m mad at you and I’m mad at me.

      I’m mad at you because you’ve slammed the door in my face. On my face: my white, white face. Because Europe was so kind to my people, right? You say privilege like it means something. But believe me, the only gift Europe ever gave us was our lovely pale skin. But for you, diversity, that seems to be enough, because that’s all you see when you look at me.

      But wait, there’s more, because somehow, you’ve decided that not only are me and my people

      Tuesday, September 03, 2019

      The roundness of a zero at the end -- a big birthday looms

      I’ve been thinking about zeroes quite a bit lately… mostly because my upcoming birthday has one at the end of it. 

      If you think about it, it’s strange, how much fuss we make over birthdays that end in 0.  So arbitrary.  Hashem made us with 10 fingers so we figure the world revolves around that number somehow. 

      If my 11-fingered kid ran the world