As the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin has asked me to step down from my columnist’s post, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank one person in particular, and to reflect on my time writing the Values, Ethics, Community column.
Thanks go to my editor, Michael Regenstreif, who gave me the opportunity to find my public writing voice. After requesting a couple of book reviews in 2008, Michael offered me a regular column. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity. As an academic, it has been particularly gratifying to be offered a platform in which to share my ideas more broadly, beyond the audience of my peers alone. Indeed, since finding my feet at the Bulletin, I’ve had regular columns or been a frequent blogger at Haaretz, the Daily Beast, the Jewish Independent (Vancouver), the Forward, the Canadian Jewish News and the Globe and Mail. Michael tipped the ball into the court for me.
What I’ve tried to do in the Bulletin is five-fold. I’ve tried to share some of my own vulnerabilities and challenges around issues such as parenting in general, Jewish parenting in particular, marriage and mortality.
I’ve tried to transfer parking-lot chatter into informed and balanced commentary surrounding emotional issues such as day school decisions, synagogue rules around Hebrew school attendance for obtaining bar and bat mitzvah privileges, and community kashrut requirements and negotiations.
I’ve tried to strengthen commitment toward Jewish literacy, including education, knowledge of Israeli politics and culture and, especially, Hebrew language.
I’ve tried to suggest more ethical ways of conducting ourselves individually and in our community, including issues around environmentalism, LGBTQ inclusion, how we treat domestic workers, disability inclusion, responding to Islamophobia and pursuing social justice more generally.
And I’ve tried to shed light to offset the polarized heat generated by the red-hot issue of Israeli policy, and how these ideas get played out in the Diaspora. While, to the best of my recollection, party affiliation in Canada – or party preference in Israel – never came up, I made no secret of my distress over the ongoing Israeli occupation and the need to have serious and sustained discussion about what can be done. Neither did I give those, like the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) community, much play. In my estimation, neither of those positions – full BDS or tacit acceptance of the status quo – will lead to the kind of endgame necessary for both Israelis and Palestinians to maintain collective and individual needs, desires and dignity. I also sought to inject an analytical overlay to issues I felt were being misunderstood in the fog of parochial loyalties, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
As an opinion writer leaving one perch, it’s tempting to ask whether I changed any minds. I doubt it. Judging from the letters-to-the-editor I read, I know I raised blood pressure levels among some readers. I also know from casual conversation that I pleased the sensibilities of others, though they were probably less likely to write to the paper. And I know that my political perspective – squarely within the Zionist tent, but not right wing enough to suit the tastes of some of the establishment voices in Jewish Ottawa – cost me a leadership position at a Jewish community institution I had believed in, and had faithfully served for several years. This is something I wrote about in my blog at Haaretz, and it was a jarring realization that critical wrestling is not good enough when it comes to the tone and tenor of our donor-driven community. Sadly, the problem is not unique to Ottawa.
What I have tried to do more than anything else in my seven years at the Bulletin is to encourage people to think about things from a new perspective, even if for a moment; and to model what I believe is the tenor of discourse essential to a productive exchange of ideas in any society or community. In that, I hope I succeeded.