Shana Tova to you and yours.
This is my 39th column for the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, and it is also my last. I have never specifically addressed you, dear reader, but I want to do so now as I reflect on the experience of writing this column over the past two years. I want you to know that I am grateful for your readership and your support.
I have enjoyed speaking with you, in any number of places, about the columns. We have talked in grocery store aisles and at the market; at the synagogue after and sometimes during a service; in the change room of the Soloway Jewish Community Centre; in triangular fashion through my parents; and even at the airport. It has been a delight to connect with you these past two years; whether or not we shared the same opinion, you let me know that you read the work and that it spoke to you.
Many of my columns were written in lightness: tongue in cheek, sarcastic, they playfully teased out issues and my own contradictory opinions. In an early column I confessed how envious I was of the chaverim, women in my former Montreal neighbourhood whose lives seemed full with family and purpose. More recently I wrote two columns that reflected my love of great food and the communion possible when we gather around a table.
Yet many of my columns were written as an immediate response to events happening in the world and close to home, and now, looking over them as a collection, I see a roadmap of issues that have characterized the past two years: the Syrian refugee crisis; social justice for people of colour; reconciliation and repair between Indigenous people and Canada; social inequality; gendered violence; and humanitarian crises around the world.
Some of my columns have dealt exclusively with Jewish themes or questions of ritual, spirituality, and practice. At other times, I tried to weave Jewish notions and questions into a piece that appeared to be about something else, like the issues above. I wrote with an awareness of where we were in the Jewish calendar, and I tried to make connections to the rhythm of our seasons and our holidays. By layering the collection of articles onto the calendar, I can now trace the rhythm of my secular and spiritual life and my commitment to a particular desire to work for tikkun olam (repair of the world).
I also see that the collection of articles, this roadmap, is not even or neutral. There are a few landmarks that now glow with a kind of ironic presence, a dull and sad pulsing. Let me explain.
My very first column referenced a cottage by a lake, a magical end-of-summer swim, and the hospitality of two kind friends who are the founders of my congregation, Or Haneshamah, Walter and Teena Hendelman. In the two years since that column appeared, the generous and spirited Teena succumbed to cancer. Similarly, my first Passover column was written in honour of my adopted bubbie and zayde, Rose and David Shentow. But, next year’s Passover seder will come and go without David’s big heart and his equally big appetite. This year also brought me closer to the rituals of mourning as I helped to lead two Shloshim services: one for my dear friend Eelco Buitenhuis and one for my ‘zayde,’ and so I wrote about Shloshim and grief in this column. Moreover, while I have written often about humanitarian crises and traumas around the world, not one of them has been solved or even remedied. Sometimes writing feels like weeping in an empty room. At this potent time in the Jewish calendar, when the seasons change and the melancholy of autumn flashes through each tree, each leaf, I feel these losses keenly.
Thank you for reading along with me. I hope that, if nothing else, I have encouraged you to think about things differently, modelled ways to approach topics with nuance, and made you laugh once in a while even as you disagreed! To tell you the truth, I felt that wide range of emotions while writing the columns, too. It has been an adventure.
In closing, because I appreciate the mysteries of life and of our tradition, I urge you to look up the Gematria significance of the number 39. I wish, for all of us on this planet, a year of peace and loving kindness.