The first column I wrote for The CJN was a Guest Voice column – “Library leads to personal destiny” – in which I recounted that during my time at Penn State I was a student researcher for a professor who was writing a book about Count von Stauffenberg, leader of the abortive 1944 effort to assassinate Hitler. I had to read the transcripts of the Nuremberg Trials. What was almost worse than these accounts was the realization that I had never been taught about the Holocaust in all my years of schooling.
I concluded the article: “It was somewhere in that summer that I knew I would become a Jew.”
In the approximately 325 subsequent articles, I wrote about many topics. I wrote about Jews by choice, even before I learned the code: JBB were Jews by birth, JBC were Jews by choice. I argued that we, the choosing group, should be accepted and celebrated for what we would bring to our Jewish communities.
I wrote articles about my family’s personal life. I wrote about our children’s weddings and the joy of a new granddaughter (seen in the first moments of her life). I wrote about our sorrows, about losing our parents and the blessings they brought to our lives. I wrote about losing friends and I wrote about finding new ones.
I wrote about our travels. I wrote about the synagogues we visited in cities like Prague. Their synagogues, now abandoned, had once resounded with prayer and thanksgiving. They now acted as a reminder to us of the lives once lived before being swept away in the Holocaust. I wrote about the gifts survivors of that fiery offering brought to our communities.
I wrote about issues that our community faces. I talked about poverty in our own backyards, about the needs of seniors and issues of aging. I advocated action to address poverty and the special needs of people who call out to be recognized. I wrote about addiction in the community and our responsibility to create services for those afflicted. I wrote about the efforts we make in our Vancouver community to address these issues.
I wrote about my time as a docent at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, a treasure of First Nations art and a script of lives lived. I described my encounter with a student who asked, “Are all the Indians dead?” That was my cue to examine the experiences and challenges of indigenous peoples. Canada had given Jews shelter (sometimes reluctantly), therefore, we as Jews have a responsibility to work on reconciliation, and give thanks to the first people for letting us come in. (It should be noted the museum now has indigenous docents, artists and curators.)
I wrote about women in the Jewish community. I described the lives of Jewish women in Europe who sustained their families with their work, and their changing lives when they reached North America. I wrote about women at the Kotel before I even heard of Women of the Wall. I wrote about the efforts of women in my own shul to educate themselves as to ritual and the conducting of services, and was overjoyed when our synagogue became the first large Conservative congregation in Canada to become totally egalitarian. Since then, we have seen hundreds, possibly thousands, of women step up to the bimah to chant Torah and Haftorah, as well as leading services on Shabbat and yom tov.
I wrote often about Israel. I described our travels there and the immense pleasure we take at its successes as a nation. I wrote about its challenges – and there I had plenty of feedback, not all of it positive. But that is the great benefit we enjoy here, to be able to differ.
I have enjoyed my opportunity to engage with you, the readers, in our (often one-sided) conversations.
This is my last column. I thank all of you who, over the 27 years and 300-plus columns, have written, spoken about, supported and attacked my opinions. Shalom, God bless