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 🙂