Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My Big (Happy?) Dysfunctional Family

A friend of mine previously from the US Midwest moved to Israel a year and a half ago with her family. She is one of those really nice, always smiling, always positive types that you expect to come from the heartland of the USA. Basically, she's their poster child. And that's why her observations (made originally to her husband and later to me) about our neighbourhood and our synagogue are all the funnier.

About six months into their move to Ra'anana she said to her husband: "Isn't it nice to come to a place where there are no shul (Yiddish for synagogue) politics?" As an aside, let me add that her husband, a native New Yorker, had a less delusional perspective.

I can never hear that story or tell that story enough times. It cracks me up as much now as it did when I first heard it. And after last week, it cracks me up even more.

I promised my AdHoc Overseerers Committee that I would not discuss the issue that brought our synagogue to its philosophical crossroads last week, but suffice it to say that the members of our community spent the last month in the midst of a discussion about how we view ourselves within the framework of Modern Orthodox Judaism. Left, Right, Center, Indifferent, Left with Right Leanings, Right with Left Leanings ..... you get the idea.

In the days leading up to the great vote, emotions were running so high in some quarters that there were many synagogue members who really thought that this issue would irrevocably destroy our community.

Then came Saturday night and the moment of reckoning. After weeks of over-thought angst the members of the synagogue voted last Saturday night and the matter was put to bed. But more important, the synagogue did not implode as a result of the final vote. Admittedly, there were winners and there were losers (and I suspect there were many people who were just glad the whole matter was behind them).

Which brings me to last night and the engagement party of one of our friends' daughter. (Try to follow along with my convoluted thinking here.)

The party was packed with people from our synagogue (and many other people as well). It no longer mattered what side people voted for the other night.

The question any naive outsider could reasonably ask was: "How could you go from the brink of destruction to non-partisan party mode in 48 hours?" And that, my friends, is an interesting question.

When people move to Israel from North America they leave behind a lot -- family, friends, emotional comfort, to name a few. In my mind, they gain a lot more than they lose, but that does not minimize the fact that they have paid a big price to recreate their lives.

And the people who play the biggest role in their new lives (at least in my neighbourhood) are the other members of the shul. People who may have nothing else in common but this one gigantic life experience. They may not share the same political views (trust me, they don't) and they obviously don't share the same views on the observance of Judaism, but at the end of the day, they are the people who will do your carpool if your car breaks down 10 minutes before pick-up. They will feed your children when you are home in bed with the flu. They will drive you to the airport when your parent dies in North America -- and they will be waiting there to bring you home when you return from the shiva.

The grandfather of the groom-to-be spoke last night at the engagement party. He was a very polished, knowledgeable speaker who recounted how, 70 years ago, he managed to survive a pogrom in Romania that left many in his shtetl dead. He also talked about surviving the Shoah (Holocaust). And now, he said, here he was, in Ra'anana, celebrating his grandson's engagement on behalf of all those who never knew there could even be a Jewish state where Jews could live any type of Jewish life they wanted, freely.

And when all is said and done, that is really the ONLY point that matters.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

They're kidding, right?

Yesterday I received a message on Facebook from someone working at my undergrad university whose job it is to find alumni that have fallen off the university's potential donors list. Egads (for those young folk out there, it sort of means "yikes" although it is actually a slang form of OMG)!!!!!!!! Can you imagine a university going to such lengths to find its alumni?

Of course you can.

Debbie, my new friend from McMaster University's Data Entry Department, sent a lovely inquiry letter asking if I was me and apologizing if I was, in fact, someone else. She wasn't sure I was me because one of my Facebook pages only lists me by my married name and not the maiden name that she probably has on her list.

That's one of the big problems with having an unusual first name. Even if someone doesn't have all your data, partial data will probably do the trick. And together with a quick Facebook search of graduates from McMaster .... voila, there you go. Yipee doodle, I was found.

Frankly, I have been happily lost for years. I wasn't hiding but I also made no effort to be found. They did catch wind of me about 12 years ago when I realized that I had lost my undergraduate diploma and I called them and asked for a new copy. Once they had an address to which they could send the diploma, they felt free to start sending me all sorts of crazy junk mail. However, the joke was on them -- the address I gave them was my parents'. The point being that if I really wanted to be found, then I would have given them my correct address at that time.

I never thought about them again after I moved to Israel. As wonderful as those university years were -- and they were all that and more -- it was part of my past.

Of course, that was before Facebook.

Thanks to Facebook and my need to put down just enough information to make me reasonably "findable" (I know that's not a word, but remember, my blog, my vocabulary) to old friends, some unwanted people found me as well.

I just realized that I have digressed so far from my point that I will have to take a bus to get back to it.

Okay, so I wrote back to Data Entry Debbie and she sent me a link so that I could become a member of the McMaster Alumni website. I should have just ignored her message, but my need to click a link wherever I find one was too strong to ignore. Next thing I knew I was at the "register to login" page and since it also had a link .... I started clicking again. I figured that I would just register. No one was actually going to come after me for money ... I live to far away. I'm inaccessible.

And then came the ironic moment. In fact, the MUA website was inaccessible because one of the first pieces of information they wanted was my student card number.

First I checked to see if that was an optional question but as it turned out, it was one of the questions with the little red asterik next to it, which means that it was compulsory. I just looked at it, and looked at it, and looked again.

As I see it, it was the hand of G-d slapping me back to reality. I think what He was saying was that He also doesn't want me to give money to McMaster; He would prefer that I do all my charitable giving in Israel.

My biggest problem is that I can't help but look a gift horse in the mouth. After a message straight from G-d you would think I had the sense to just move on to another web page, but noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo, I have to have the last word (G-d also gave man free choice, and in my case, I don't always use it wisely). I wrote back to Data Entry Debbie and asked her who the heck remembered their student card number 28 years after graduation?

Now, I am just waiting for her response. If she responds that people actually do remember theirs, I will eat my hat. And then I will sit around and wait for my graduate school university to find me as well.