In October I was told that as of February I’ll no longer be a columnist for The CJN. I’ve been writing for the newspaper since 2001. I’m 59 years old. Don’t worry, though, I’m not disappearing from the CJN universe: starting in February I’ll be podcasting instead.
Even so, on the day I was notified that it was time to make way for other Canadian Jewish writers – especially, according to The CJN’s editor, Yoni Goldstein, younger ones – a certain “Lord Tunderin” moment occurred, an internal explosion of self-doubt. Might it be my writings weren’t quite as ageless as I thought?
Perhaps my meanderings about Jewish life weren’t necessarily as timeless as I believed. Apparently, the fact I’ll be 60 in April, one year younger than my father’s age of death, is a real concern for the generation of readers after me.
So, am I older? Well, I’m certainly not 25 anymore, and with that have an admittedly limited understanding of what is happening in the minds of our Jewish community members of that age. I do indeed love the “Turner Classic” component of our peoplehood, culture and religion. Give me the opportunity to write about warmth – or lack thereof – in our shuls, my son’s bar mitzvah, the new Habonim synagogue, or the law of ‘shiluach ha’kan’ (shooing the mother bird away from the nest and her eggs), and I’m all over it.
Basically, I’m more intrigued by Debbie Friedman’s and Shlomo Carlebach’s music than that of Drake and Ofir Ben Shitrit. My soul is skewed toward those who are 40-to-close-to-nursing-home-reader. I tend to write about the old times quite a bit, including a recent article about the Rosensweig brothers, two of whom have passed and one who is in his 90s. I do love S. Y. Agnon’s shtetl-like characters, who constantly krechz and bemoan their existence. The new generation doesn’t seem to care much for aged siblings and those who passed away. And they don’t krechz. They complain.
Over the years, I’ve written a lot about anti-Semitism and the need for a plan. I’m not certain if younger folks are interested. I’ve been told my twists of phrase have an “old English” way, with regular smatterings of Jewish and spiritual words, such as a paragraph I wrote in a 2011 column called, Guyana, Pesach & My Boy, I wrote, “I find it hard to explain slavery to my boy; mostly become I am too ashamed to admit my people once cowered in corners afraid of another man forcing them to abandon their Jewish soul and sense of self. How do you explain brutality to a child?”
So, my initial response to this whole thing was: Yoni, what the heck do you know about my inner age? Who are you to determine my writings are outdated? Then I remembered. Yoni’s task is a very challenging one. It’s to ensure the future of this publication, which requires more younger readers, hence the need for contemporary writers rooted in the hip and progressive. And despite my dope smoking, hair length (close to that of Jerry Garcia’s), the oil paint marks on my Shabbat suits (the stuff that didn’t make it onto the canvas) – in the words of John Lee Hooker, it appears “I done got old.”
So, I’m being replaced. I’m officially a wordsmith fossil, with wrinkled metaphors and rumpled allegories. I’ll miss writing for The CJN. I’ve loved it since I was a kid and am deeply honoured to have written for it. But then again, I’m not really leaving. Hold on tightly for some eternal Jewishness that’ll shake the lulav of the young and old alike.
But you know what? Screw you, Yoni Goldstein. I’ll show you (after I take a tablespoon of my Metamucil)!