Thursday, August 5, 2010

You can never go home again

Someone sent this link (see bottom of post) to me yesterday and when I read it I had the strongest sense of melancholy I have experienced in a long time. I grew up 12 miles from Glace Bay, in the bustling city of Sydney, Nova Scotia. (Take that description with a grain of salt please.)

And exactly as the story reports, we were all raised to get an education and leave. I did and so did almost every Jewish kid I knew.

After I finished graduate school I went to work for Stelco in Hamilton, Ontario, which at the time was Canada's largest steel manufacturer. As the junior writer I was excited when I was invited to join the Communications team at a steel tradeshow in Toronto. While I was on a break from my duties during the show I decided to have a look around. I came across the booth for the Sydney steel plant, Sysco, and I, being a 100% Cape Bretoner in my heart (in not my physicality) stopped to say hello.

The CEO of Sysco just happened to be there at the same time. He asked me my name which I enthusiastically offered up because I was a proud Cape Bretoner. Of course he knew my father which was not surprising firstly because Cape Breton has a small professional community and my father was one of the more senior members at that point. And secondly because I came from a large family that was known far and wide in those parts.

Then he asked me where I went to university and what I had done there. I proudly gave him the abbreviated story of my BA and my MA, and how I was now working for Stelco in Hamilton. To me, that made us sort of kindred spirits. Ha.

Mr. CEO just stood there looking at me and then he pretty much exploded: "This is precisely the problem with your people," he said. 'You are encouraged to get a good education but you never bring your skills and knowledge back to Cape Breton where it is so sorely needed.' (I am paraphrasing because this happened in 1985.)

I tried to explain that Jewish young people have to go where there are other Jewish young people if we are going to perpetuate our people. And Cape Breton was definitely not that place. But frankly, he didn't want to hear anymore. He just sort of walked away. And I was left standing there feeling like dirt -- and on some small level, rightfully so. He wasn't Jewish and he didn't get the Jewish thing.

Anyway, after reading this article in the National Post, I can't help but think back on that moment. I love my life in Israel and I have no regrets, but there is a tiny piece of me that will always feel 100% Cape Breton.’s-oldest-synagogue-marks-end-of-era/

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Things that never ever happen in Canada

It takes about six months to plan a bar mitzvah -- at least the way my friends do it here. Yes, you could do it in less time but I live in a hyper-drive sort of neighbourhood so no one "throws" a celebration together at the last minute -- even if they said they did.

Which brings me to my friends who are celebrating their son's bar mitzvah this coming weekend. After months of planning the location, the food, the music, the events, the order of the synagogue activities, and a thousand other small details that would take too much space to explain, it is finally time.

They decided to hold the event at a fancy hotel in the north of Israel rather than celebrating in our synagogue, which is located one block from my house (but that's an aside).

Back to the hotel.The only thing that is important about it for my story-telling purposes, is that we are staying there for two nights this weekend and it is located near Kiryat Shmona. Kiryat Shmona is located in northern Israel on the western slopes of the Hula Valley on the Lebanese border. The Lebanese border is the key phrase here. (See map above)

Anywhooooooooooooooooooooo. The anticipation of a weekend in a nice hotel has been building among those of us who are attending. It's been a big topic of conversation for the past few weeks. And then it all came to a screaching halt around 3:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon when for some irrational reason the Lebanese Army decided that Israeli soldiers pruning trees on Israeli soil was pissing them off so they decided to start shooting over the border.

Obviously it was a ruse by the Lebanese -- because even CNN thinks that they over-reacted to the UN approved activity on the Israeli side and CNN is not know for taking Israel's side on anything. But that is not the point.

The point is that since the news broke yesterday afternoon my friends and I have been on the phone going through the kind of soul searching that never occurs in Canada. Do we still go to the bar mitzvah? Are we unnecessarily risking our lives and those of our children who are coming with us? And for those of us who are not taking our children, are we risking making them orphans all for the sake of a bar mitzvah? Are we over-reacting? Are we under-reacting? Are we reacting on principal or fear? Are the reports in the Hebrew press the same as those in the English-Israeli press? Are we reading between the lines or are we too naive to do so properly? Are we willing to jump in our cars on the Sabbath and drive away from there if things get worse -- even though we are observant Jews who don't drive on the Sabbath?

And those are only a few of the questions that we have addressed in the past 21 hours.

Of course there are no cut and dry answers. All we really want to do is go away for the weekend and let someone else do all the work while we hang out enjoying the celebration. In Canada it would actually be that simple. In Israel it rarely is simple because the situation can change on a dime -- as opposed to Canada where there is no change analogy because "the situation" never changes.

Man plans and God laughs. I don't know who said that first, but this is an excellent example of that idea in action.

For the records, as of this moment, we are all going. Someone we know called someone he knows in the Israel Defense Forces and the word, for now, is: all clear. The problem is that no one called the Lebanese Army or Hizbollah to see if they are in agreement. They probably are not. Stay tuned.