Out of the depths

I think about it every Rosh Hashana. Every Yom Kippur, and most nights inbetween, before, and after. 365 nights and days per year, it’s somewhere on my mind.

Every High Holiday, as we enter our beloved schul in our best clothes, I make a point to shake the hand of the Ottawa Police officers who guard our entrance and to say to them “Thank you for being here today, we are grateful.”

Ironically, before converting, I wrestled with that very question, the first one the very wise rabbi who taught me had asked: “why would you do this to your future children? Don’t you read history books?” .

I felt all the weight of that question. I even considered “living jewishly” without officially converting, so that my future children would be free, as I had been until then. But I decided to take a leap of faith, to follow my heart rather than my gut, the light rather than the darkness. “Surely, these days are over”, I told myself. A lot of people told me they did not even understand the dilemma, that Canada was a safe haven and would be for a very long time. Plus, it felt like it would be cheating, and I have never been a cheater.

I tend to follow the light. I love life and Hashem fiercely. I am by nature a joyful, though often stressed out, person. Only love can drive out hatred, only light can drive out darkness, only faith can drive out fear. I am sure of that, I try my darnedest to live by that.

But at times like these, the fear wins, if only for a while. At times like these, I can read the writing on the wall so clearly. With every attack on people, on mosques, synagogues on any vulnerable group, I feel the darkness of hatred closing in, and I feel powerless to protect my beautiful, bright, unsuspecting children.

I pray, but I am not naive. This will take a lot more than prayers, though prayers and faith we will need.

The light will come back. Stronger, brighter, and surer of itself. I know this as surely as I know my left hand from my right. But right now, it’s dark, my friends.


3 Canadian companies to know if you have children

Oliver’s labels

I find Oliver’s labels far superior to Mabel’s Labels: they have more designs and fonts, the designs are better, and I love their stick-eez clothing labels and the match-up shoe labels to help kids put their shoes on the right foot. They have customizable packages, so I usually get both my kids set up for the year in one order.

They also make adult stickers (curb side bin labels!) and wall art stickers, although the selection for those is more limited.

Dizolve laundry eco-strips:

Biodegradable, free of parabens, phosphates, dyes and chlorine, it comes in clever compressed laundry powder strips, thus dramatically reducing the ecological footprint of the product (less weight and volume for shipping, and no extra water). That alone would make it the perfect detergent as far as I am concerned, but Dizolve doesn’t stop there.

For every pack you buy, they donate one to a Canadian food bank, and 20% or your purchase goes to Food Banks Canada, the Sierra Club or a charity of your choice  (You can contact them to set up an account for your favourite cause if it does not appear on their list).

It comes in unscented or Linen Fresh scent. If you chose the scented product, the smell will seem very strong when you first open the package (remember it is very concentrated), but it only leaves a very faint scent on your freshly laundered clothes.

And at $12.99 for 64 loads – or a bit less if, like me, you use one and a half strip per load, messy boys oblige- it’s also very easy on the budget. There’s just no good reason not to use this product.

Boomerang Kids

A Canadian consignment shop specializing in kids’ items with locations across the country and franchise opportunities. I have saved oodles over the past 5 years, consigning things my boys had outgrown and using the credits to purchase other items. I have found Gusti snow suits and winter jackets in good shape for less than $80, and just oufitted my six year old for the summer without spending a dime.

The key is to time things right : they take fall-winter items from June to September, and spring-summer items from February to June. The other key if you just want to shop without consigning, is to go often.


I still believe in religion

In the aftermath of the horrible attacks that shook my birth country (France) and Lebanon, I face a particular challenge from my concerned agnostic or atheist friends : How can you still believe there is a G-d? They ask me, and how can you still defend religion when so many atrocities are committed in its name?

My answer to them is that they are absolutely right. That anyone who believes in a G-d who intervenes in the world to reward and punish is forced by history and the world itself to reexamine this position. How can I not only believe, but love and worship a G-d who lets thousands upon thousands of innocent, brave and bright souls be abused, assaulted, killed? Doesn’t that make me an accomplice of the fanatics who keep sinking to new lows of morality in the name of, paradoxically, some divine moral order?

“Where is your G-d?”

The thing is, I always believed in G-d, and I have wrestled with these same questions since I was a fairly young child. But I have never believed in a G-d that rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. I do not believe in divine punishment, but I do believe that our actions, and thoughts, bear in themselves the seeds of their consequences. It is not quite a karmic view of divinity, but it can help to think of Karma to better understand my understanding of G-d’s relationship to his-her Creation, including humanity. When one commits an offense against Man, he contributes darkness to the world, and creates conditions in which fewer and fewer people can thrive. Sooner or later, the darkness affects the perpetrator himself. The criminal is not smitten down by the hand of G-d, but the consequences of his actions shape the world he lives in.

From a very young age, children are acutely aware of injustice in the world around them; a five year-old’s motto is often a passionately uttered “it’s not fair!”. I was not exception. To this day, seeing people who want to live die, people who hope and work hard be hit by illness, violence, humiliation, people who trust be betrayed, brings tears to my eyes. And so as the years – and tears- went by, my spiritual and religious encounters progressively shaped, or revealed, my “emunah”, my notion of G-d and the divine.

“Emunah”, often translated as “faith” in English, is probably better translated as a kind of deep seated intuition, something felt deeply in one’s soul and is beyond reason, a deep conviction of sorts, that is neither intellectual nor emotional, but very much spiritual.

Emunah is an innate conviction, a perception of truth that transcends, rather than evades, reason.

Tzvi Freeman on chabad.org

That acute sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, precludes for me any possibility of believing in a G-d that rules justly over our world. I simply cannot believe in a G-d that would require me to abdicate my intellect and to close my eyes and heart to the desperate cries of the world.

But that same instinct is also what makes me certain there IS a G-d, an intentional force, at work in the universe and in the world. I do not believe that G-d, thus understood as a moral intention for all of Creation and humanity in particular, intervenes directly in the form of impressive miracles and dramatic apparitions. G-d created a world in which joy and tragedy are both possible, because, on the one hand, the laws of nature account for both life and death, and because, on the other hand, Man is a moral being, free to choose the path of good, or the path of evil.

Human beings live in a world of good and bad, and that makes our lives painful and complicated.

Harold S. Kushner When Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Life is both amazingly resilient and extremely fragile. The same natural order that makes birth possible makes death inevitable. Man is free to choose evil, and often does, whether by lack of direction, ignorance, moral confusion, or weakness, or simply because it appeals to the animal side of his being. But man, unlike animals, also has the ability to elevate everything he does: he does not simply mate but falls in love, does not simply eat but cooks, does not simply speak but sings.

Perfecting a world in which the main protagonists are free to write their own part is no small task.

G-d can inspire and give strength to those who chose to seek them, but he-she cannot undo what has been done, he-she cannot make man’s decisions for him. G-d wants us to make the right decision and has given us a formidable code of ethics – Torah – to guide us. But the complexity of human experience makes even such divine contribution vulnerable to interpretation and misinterpretation.

“I can accept G-d, but why religions?”

Again, friends and loved ones who ask me this question are on to something. It’s all fine and good if there is a divine force at work in the world, but why do we need popes and rabbis and temples? Who needed the Crusades or the Inquisition? Who needs child molesting priests? Why can’t all religions get along instead of constantly trying to eliminate each other?

I am in complete, unequivocal agreement with them. But none of those evils has much to do with religion, other than the fact they were committed in the name of religion or by people who represent a religion. But isn’t religion responsible for what is being done in its name? I don’t think so, no. I believe religious leaders and all people of faith should do their best to counter the deleterious discourse and revolting acts perpetrated in their name by reaffirming the real values behind their faith, but I do not believe they are responsible in any way.

It’s a tragic case of ID theft, with monumental consequences. If someone steals your identity to commit serious offenses, should you be held responsible?

If someone goes around spreading lies about you, with just enough truth in them to make them believable, and turns people you know and people you do not know against you, are you at fault? Of course, those who know you well will not fall for the lies and will support you, but there are those who will believe what they have heard and not bother checking. Because of those lies, you may not get the same opportunities as before, because your future employer or potential partner recognizes your name and puts your application at the very bottom of the pile. Strangers may cross the street when they see you or give you reproving looks. The teller may refuse to serve you, your own children may question you. But what can you be expected to do, really, other than continue to be yourself and wait for the truth to prevail?

And so it is with religion, particularly Islam these days, but attacking Islam on the grounds that it is a religion is basically an attack on all religions.

How many among us who claim the Kuran is nothing but incitation to violence have bothered reading it? And of those who have read part or all of it, how many actually understand it? I cannot say that I do. I rely on the examples set by Muslim friends, on my conversations with them and on my own study, to know that Islam is a religion of tremendous wisdom, and that Islamic civilizations have made contributions to the world that we today take for granted.

Their Kuran does not threaten my Torah, and vice-versa. I find wisdom in all of the great sacred texts, and that only informs and reinforces my admiration for Judaism. In the same way, the more I learn Torah, the more I understand and admire other religions.

“But religion is just glorified brainwashing! It preys on vulnerable people!” my concerned friends protest. Here again, I think they are absolutely right. Too often, religion is willful delusion, brainwashing, manipulation, corruption. Too often, religion is wielded as an instrument of power, because it is so influential. Too often, it is adopted as a means to evade the world rather than confront it, to wash one’s hands of what needs to be done while keeping a clear conscience, or trying to. “I won’t give change to this homeless man, because I need the change for a coffee, but I will pray for him.” How wonderfully convenient!

Religion is indeed powerful, because it appeals to the divine part of us. It is almost irresistibly appealing, because we crave that connection with the eternal, with our higher selves. We crave also the discipline it offers, the structure it brings to something essentially fluid and chaotic.

The problem with religion is not a problem with religion. It is a problem with the human condition.

The same weakness that leads one to embrace religious fanaticism pushes another to embrace political extremism. Stalin was not a particularly religious man.

People who torture, invade and slaughter in the name of religion are not concerned with religion at all. They are concerned with feeling good about themselves, finding a purpose to their life, or with gaining riches or power. The brave people who started the #NotInMyName movement on social networks know it, I know it, and, deep down, my concerned friends know it.

The world is chaotic, human beings are complex. I don’t believe in G-d for any particular reason. I simply do, and always have, as long as I can remember. I am not embracing Judaism because it saves me the trouble of thinking for myself or because it distracts me from the real concerns of the world. It does in fact the opposite. My budding religious practice allows me to deepen the connection with the divine, within and around us all, and to become a better contributor – hopefully – to humanity and to the world. Religious practice, like all practice, may not make perfect, but it makes better. I find new growth in the answers I find in it, and perhaps even more in the questions and thoughts it provokes.

I wrestle with Torah. I wrestle with the world. I wrestle with the same dilemmas, outrage and indignation my concerned friends feel. I share the same burden and the same responsibility to improve the world through constructive actions. I turn to Torah as a source of courage, inspiration, and discipline, all of which are essential to the work ahead, because G-d cannot do it for us.

Shalom. Shalom.








Pesach essentials – From checklist to soundtrack

Thanks to a flexible schedule and some help, I started spring cleaning just after Purim, so I was able to check a few boxes off on my fairly extensive list. With less than a week to go though, I need to refocus and prioritize, lest a joyful celebration of freedom will start feeling like just the opposite. To that end, I am arming myself with Aish.com’s Passover cleaning made easy article, Out of the Ortho-Box: How to clean for Passover in one day, by Ruchi Koval, and focusing on the Chametz column of my nifty Pesach cleaning check list.

In short, the point is to say: Getting rid of chametz does not mean getting rid of every particle of dust in your house. Chametz is food. If you wouldn’t eat it (because it’s mixed with dirt or ended up stuck under your car seat, somehow), then it’s not food, and if it’s not food, it’s not Chametz. So if time is getting away from you, don’t fret: focus on the areas of your home where you cook and eat, do a good vacuuming of the rest of the house and enjoy your holiday. You can plan the rest of your spring cleaning over the next couple of months, whether you’re a room-by-room or an item-by-item kind of person.

Oh, and don’t forget a good soundtrack! It will add soul to your clean.

Cleaning bucket

Cleaning bucket, credits to http://www.onlysimchas.com

Back in time for Purim!


Well my friends, it has been a long hiatus! I left my job last September to start my own translation company, Edge Translation, and the past few months have been incredibly exciting and equally busy with my first contracts (Baruch Hashem!), and a wonderful learning opportunity through the OSEB program.

Purim is upon us once again, so what better way to revive this blog that with some delicious Orange blossom water Hamantaschen?

One is not forgotten until their name is forgotten

Source: Local Tourist Ottawa blog ltottawa.wordpress.com

Source: Local Tourist Ottawa blog ltottawa.wordpress.com

WWI epitomized the absurdity of war. Thousands of lives lost for every yard gained, and lost again, and regained. Because of that very absurdity, it is also a testimony to unfathomable courage in the midst of the darkest of darkness. Young, promising lives, cut short. Entire regions devastated beyond hope. Lest we forget.

A Jewish proverb says one is only forgotten when one’s name is forgotten. And so we inscribe names in stone, and we erect monuments to the fallen. And it brings no one back to the lives they could have lived, to the people who love and miss them, but through their name on that stone, they live on in our collective memory.

Déjà la pierre pense où votre nom s’inscrit
Déjà vous n’êtes plus qu’un mot d’or sur nos places
Déjà le souvenir de vos amours s’efface
Déjà vous n’êtes plus que pour avoir péri.

Louis Aragon – Tu n’en reviendras pas

Three Beautiful Books for Jewish (and all other) children

Three illustrated children's books

It takes some work these days to find children’s books that are not a bunch of rhyming words pasted onto computer generated, simplistic illustrations, a cash grab disguised as an attempt to teach our kids letters, numbers, shapes and the likes, or the tired expression of overextended brand name X or Y (looking at you, Dora).

The more I frequent public and community libraries, the more little gems I find, like the following three books, discovered hiding in plain sight on the shelves of the Greenberg Families Library at the Soloway Jewish Community Centre.

Why Noah Chose the Dove, by Isaac Bashevis Singer, illustrated by Eric Carle.

What to expect from a collaboration between the wonderful Yiddish author who gave us The Golem and Yentl, and the fantastic author-illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Mixed Up Chameleon but a little marvel of a book?

Having heard that Noah is soon to take on his ark only the best of living creatures, all the animals set out to set themselves apart, boasting about their unique qualities and demeaning others’. All except the Dove, who humbly says: “Each one of us has something the other doesn’t have, given us by God who created us all”.

Noah then goes on to reassure anxious animals: he tells them that he loves them all and that they will all have a place on the ark: “I love all of you, but because the dove remained modest and silent while the rest of you bragged and argued, I choose it to be my messenger.” What a nice way to introduce the concept of humility to children, and to remind adults that, although we often experience it that way, life is not about competition.

Never Say a Mean Word Again, A Tale From Medieval Spain, by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Durga Yael Bernhard. This little story of two boys who started out as enemies and inadvertently become friends is part of the Wisdom Tales series, which is in itself a treasury of beautiful tales from different cultures and regions around the world, and a great source of unique children’s literature.

In this story inspired by the life of Samuel Ha-Nagid, Samuel is instructed by his impressive father to “make sure Hamza never says a mean word to [him] again”, after Samuel accidentally spilled water and food on Hamza’s tunic. Hamza did not want to believe it was an accident and called Samuel names before running away. As he tries to follow this difficult instruction, Samuel ends up spending a lot of time with Hamza, and the two become good friends. In the end, Samuel’s father asks “Then you did what I asked?”. And Samuel realizes that he did, in fact, do exactly that. A really lovely and timeless story.

The Hidden Artist, by Leah Chana Rubabshi, illustrated by Phyllis Saroff.

This is another take on explaining God to young children as the God of B’Rreshit (Genesis).This gorgeously illustrated poem about a little boy who marvels at the beauty of the world around him is a simple reminder of the abundance and beauty that surrounds us and that we so often forget to look at. Surely, only an artist can be behind such a wonderful world? It is published by Hachai, a Jewish Publisher, and God is called “Hashem”, but only once, at the end of the book, so don’t let it deter you if you are not Jewish: you can always explain that a Jewish person wrote the book, and that Jews call God “Hashem” 😉 There are so few quality books out there that appeal to our little ones’ sense of wonder, don’t deprive yourself of this one.

Another thing to love about this book is that the pages are laminated! They don’t tear, and you can wipe them off in a jiffy in case of accidental snack-time reading spillage. I do try to teach my kids to respect books and treat them well, but I am very grateful when I can let them enjoy a book by themselves, and they certainly appreciate the freedom as well.

What about you? Which books have enchanted your world, as a parent or as a child? I am always looking, so please share 🙂

A world without Jamie


I got the phone call minutes after hitting “publish” on my last post, just a couple of hours before Yom Kippur. All the things for which it was now too late rushed through my head. Death is so final. My first thoughts were for you. “Oh no, Jamie, what did you do…”

My second thought was that I should have kept in touch. I should have wished you a happy birthday. I should have let you come and stay, as you begged me to, a year ago. Heck, I should have taken you on that road trip, why not? I should have put you in touch with Operation Come Home, with the Youth Services Bureau or their equivalent where you lived. I knew you were struggling, I knew you felt trapped. Why is it that I can think of a million things I could and should have done now, now that I won’t get a chance to?

I also knew, because, alas, I have been around this block a few times, that it was beyond my reach, that the kind of help you needed most, I was not able to give because, well, because of my own limitations. Because I am barely keeping up with the requirements of a grown-up’s life, some days: the schedule, the money, the marriage, two young kids who need me to stay at my best, night and day. I was afraid for them. That’s why I couldn’t let you come, not while you were so deep in the trenches. I wasn’t sure I could trust you around them, please forgive me. I lived with my mother’s depression my whole childhood, and I know it’s a full time emotional investment. I did not have it in me to take care of you the way you wanted to be taken care of, even for a little while. Please forgive me. It felt impossible. I know now that it was a heck of a lot more possible then than it is now. But all the same.

As I was writing this post on people I hurt and things I did wrong, it turns out the one person I needed to ask forgiveness from the most was you, and now I won’t get a chance to.

I thought about you so often. Daily. You probably had no idea, how would you? But you were with me, a lot. I wanted you to get well so badly. I really liked you kid, loved you even. I liked that you were part of this family. I liked that you were different. I did tell you that I think, during one of those marathon conversations, though perhaps not as clearly, and not as well. Those conversations left me so drained and full of panic. I felt like driving to see you a million times, but I was afraid of being sucked into something I could not handle, the same way I found it hard to end those conversations that seemed to go around in circles I could not break. I was afraid because I looked at my kids and I felt that they were going to lose a part of me if I invested myself in you. Please, forgive me.

I do know that I could have done a lot more to help you through. It may or may not have been enough. If anyone understood fully what you needed, no one would be planning a funeral for you today. I was hoping and praying that you would find your own way out, as I had. I really believed it when I told you you could and would be happy.

But I failed to see that your struggle was not like mine, that your demons were crueler, that, unlike me, you did not feel loved – although you were, you were loved immensely, you still are, and always will be. I hope you know that now, I hope you feel that now, at least. Can I celebrate your life when I feel – in part at least – responsible for your death?

Your death changes everything, and yet it does not change enough. That is the way with death. It punches a giant hole in the universe, and yet the world keeps spinning, stubborn, oblivious to our pain and yours. The crazy merry-go-round of life goes on and barely gives us enough pause to grieve and try to learn something, anything, from this. Also, you’re still alive on Facebook, which is just weird.

We will be burying your body and bidding you farewell tomorrow. We will release your soul to the universe, and pray that you found peace, and joy, and light, and all the things you could not see down here with us.

Death is so final. I will miss you, kid.

Fasting is the easy part

Kol Nidre, Leo Bar, Pix in Motion

As Yom Kippur is drawing near, I am grateful for a quiet day of reflection and preparations. Since the kids were born,  I have not had that great luxury. Now that I am self-employed, I don’t have more free time (starting a business is a lot of work), but I have a lot more flexibility in how I manage that time. So today, the to-do list is looming large, but I am making a point of ignoring it to read, reflect on Torah, and most importantly, to take stock of the side of myself I am not exactly proud of.

Is there such thing as an easy and meaningful fast?

Call me masochistic, I believe Yom Kippur should be hard. Abstaining from food and drink, spending long hours in schul, on an empty tomach, trying to squeeze an Amidah in while keeping an eye on the kids, getting home and feeding them, playing with them and trying to stay patient as you grow weaker and hungrier is challenging. And yet, as difficult as it is to fast for 25 hours, that’s the easy part.

The hard part is to truly admit the ugly things I’ve allowed myself to do, to let that embarrassment and disappointment come to the surface and face them. As I try to sit and take a deep breath to draft the list of people whom I have hurt, offended, or wronged, everything inside of me is fighting against it: “It’s OK, you’re only human, don’t worry about it, everybody else falters too. Let’s go read a book! Study Torah even, that’s a worthy thing to do, right? C’mon, just send an e-mail or something, and move on to something a little more enjoyable, life is short!” But I want to sit with these feelings, picture the faces of people I have treated unfairly. I want to try to feel what they must feel when I am selfish, forgetful, impatient…

I know that a blanket, Cc-all apology, can never be a real apology, that it can yield no true forgiveness or healing.

I know I must dig deeper. Go where it hurts. Otherwise, I am merely checking boxes on a “how to be a model Jew” to-do list, giving the appearance of doing the work without actually doing the work.

“To not bear a grudge”

This painful exercise has yielded some expected lessons, and some more surprising ones:

– I sincerely want to apologize to my husband and children for letting stress that has nothing to do with them affect how I talked to them and treated them. That is unfair, harmful behaviour, and it needs to change.

– I sincerely want to apologize to my wonderful teacher, Reb Arie, for not staying in touch after the wedding. It has been years, and the embarrassment only grows with time. This one is ripe for action.

– I sincerely want to apologize to my family for never making the time to stay in touch. They know how much I love them, and care about them, but still I should not take them for granted.

– I have so many people to apologize to for not following up on something I said I would do, I must not be nearly as reliable a person as I thought I was. That also needs to change.

But, I also learned that

– There are a few people I do not feel ready to seek forgiveness from, because I do still hold resentment against them, and feel justified. These people are usually ones with whom the aggravating situation is ongoing, and I am not finding in my heart the desire to rise above, knowing full well that I will have to either forgive and find higher grounds on which to base our relationship, or accept the limitations of that relationship and find ways to work around them, some day.

– My heart is so, so full of anger, disappointment and sadness. I have a lot of grieving to do, a lot more than I thought.

We’ll see where these are at by this time next year. In the meantime, I hope the Great Book of Life has a “work-in-progress” section.

Have a beautiful, meaningful fast.

Double duty recipes – Melon salad with pistachios and mint / Sorbet

Who does not love to cook once, eat twice? These recipes will come in especially handy on Shabbat: you can prepare a delicious meal for the Friday night and a completely different meal with the same ingredients for lunch the next day, no cooking required.

Now, just a reminder: Although I do not mix dairy and red meat at my table, I do mix poultry and dairy … but I try not to mix eggs and poultry. I know, I’m weird, but there is logic to my madness. If you do not mix any meat with dairy, pick among the alternatives in italics.

Cantaloupe with pistachios and mint / melon sorbet (parve)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 0 minutes

  1. Open and seed two cantaloupes
  2. Dice the flesh into medium size cubes (or scoop it out into chunks with a tea spoon)
  3. Chop 1 cup of shelled, unsalted pistachios, reserve about 1/3 cup
  4. Chop 1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves, reserve half
  5. Toss half of the melon cubes into a big salad bowl with the rest of the chopped pistachios and mint leaves. Dairy option: You can also add fresh goat cheese, feta or mozzarella. Also, if you are preparing the salad in advance, reserve the pistachios and add them at the last minute.
  6. Toss the other half of the melon cubes into a blender or food processor with the mint leaves (no pistachios)
  7. Add a drizzle of honey to both the salad bowl and the blender bowl, squeeze half a lemon into the salad bowl.
  8. Add a few drops of orange blossom water to the blender bowl, if you have any
  9. The melon salad is ready for prime time, just move to the dinner table or the fridge.
  10. Blend the mix and pour into small freezer friendly cups or into Popsicle trays, put in the freezer and for dessert the next day

Bon apétit! Serve with grilled chicken or fish.

If you have any suggestion or question, leave a comment, I’d love to know!