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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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I hope this is not goodbye, but just in case…

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This is supposed to be my last column. I hope it isn’t. I hope The CJN will find a way to continue, but just in case, I’ll write this as though it’s my last column.

I’ve been writing for more than 10 years. When the editor first asked me to write a column, I declined. I didn’t think I could do it. I wasn’t a writer. He persisted, and I agreed to try it for six months. Here I am, 10 years later, wondering how the time passed and how much I’ve enjoyed the experience. So first I must thank the editor for giving me this opportunity to express myself, to open a dialogue with the readers of The Canadian Jewish News. I also want to thank the copy editors who made me look good.

It has been a wonderful experience. Initially, I thought it would be a terrible burden, hence my refusal. But it proved to be a practise of freedom and an exercise in understanding. I was free to write on any subject, but my goal was to share with Canadian Jews topics of interest or challenges worthy of discussion. So I used my time to think about items that we might discuss if you were in my living room, or better yet, if you were at my dining room table. What would I say to you that we could debate? What might I encounter in my reading or while I walk to work that would be fun to share?

In the process of thinking about these things, I found it was easy to imagine your participation. Having done that, I could write the column quickly. My ideas translated into sentences without the struggle I usually have with academic papers. So I wrote about topics that ranged across the spectrum from freedom to Purim, evil language to surviving Thanksgiving. I used this platform at times to inform and at other times to unsettle. I spoke about Jewish issues and about secular topics. Everything was equally subject to my gaze. And I had fun. I will miss this opportunity.

Some columns were popular. The most feedback came with an early column I wrote on a woman saying Kaddish. It was a very personal account of my own experience and the roadblocks that exist in our communities to women’s religious expressions. It touched a nerve. In fact, the popular supports seem to have been the more personal ones, the ones in which I shared my own story. This is supported by today’s trend of personal memoirs and popular storytelling forums. You liked when I shared the personal, and you could relate more to the intimate details of my life.

But there were other successful columns. I was very proud of my column on Gilad Schalit. I felt it accomplished something. It woke some people up and resulted in this newspaper creating a more active campaign in the fight for his release. In fact, I’m proud of many of the columns and was happy to hear of some of your comments in response to them. I wandered far afield, enjoying the freedom to do so.

I had already written the column for this month when I learned that this was to be my last one. That column may never be printed. It’s certainly not a tragedy. In it, I wrote about the loss of privacy today and the need of everything to be made public – about the manic presence of CNN-like programs that publicize and repeat every detail of people’s lives. I concluded with the following: “Some things should be left unreported and unstated, and are inappropriate for publication. Some things we should keep to ourselves, for ourselves. Intimate hence private.”

But the loss of The CJN brings me to the opposite conclusion. Some things need a public vehicle, a place for open presentation, wherein the entire community can be seen in public. The CJN has been such an important vehicle for the sharing of communal news. It has been the means of our talking together, both figuratively and literally. A national Jewish community needs such a mechanism. To lose this means of communication, of public discourse, is to lose our binding ties. It is to lose the basic sustenance of any sense of national community. It will be a tragedy.

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