Friday, August 18, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Halifax’s Pier 21

Post-Holocaust Jews in Canada: 1:24
Gezen di velt vi es zol zeyn

“Alts ken der mentsh fargesn nor nit esn.”
Nahum Stutchkoff
Der Oytser fun der Yidisher Shprakh (1950)

Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, was the first place in Canada many immigrants saw. Between 1928 and 1971, when travel by ship was still common, one million immigrants disembarked at Pier 21. A subset of this figure are displaced persons (DPs or war refugees). Between 1946 and 1952, during the post-war period, Canada received about 160,000 displaced persons from Europe, or about 16% of the one million DPs post-1945 who were not repatriated to their native lands.

But the chief victims of the Second World War were not the ones who were most welcome: the estimated 250,000 European Jews who survived the war, the Khurbn Eyrope (חורבן אײראָפּע; “Destruction of Europe”), as it is called in Yiddish. Canada accepted no more than 8% of them, or no more than 20,000 individuals. But then again there was already a precedent in place. Between 1933 and 1945, for example, Canada accepted only 5,000 Jews from Europe, and even then with stringent economic conditions.

In truth, Canada then was not too welcoming to Jews, reflecting a desire to maintain its white Christian identity. The situation changed only decades later, starting in the 1970s, two decades after the war and a decade or so after Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz (1959), Viktor Frankl's Man’s Search for Meaning (1959) and Elie Wiesel’s Night (1960) were translated from their original languages and published in English. Afterward, fact-based stories written in a personal and approachable literary style helped to change people’s sensibilities in the English-speaking world about racial identity and people-hood, particularly as it applied to the Jews.

But that was decades later; immediately after the war, there was not much sympathy shown for the European Jews, despite having lived through a nightmarish 12 year reign of terror, which included the Holocaust, a central piece of The Second World War. Lest we forget, this was a war started by Nazi Germany (1933–45), whose purpose was military expansion, notably of Europe and ethnic cleansing, notably of the Jews. Its ideology of domination and destruction, based chiefly on racial superiority—as evil an ideology as have ever existed—was thankfully defeated by the combined might of the Allied armed forces.

Even so, the end of war brought with it new urgencies, new imperatives, leaving little time to mourn and reflect; that might come later. In its place is an urgency to move forward, shown in the human spirit of tenacity and perseverance, and reflected in the belief that things will soon be better. The first steps, the return to humanity began in the DP camps, which despite their many shortcomings were already better than what preceded it.

From that point onward, for the survivors, the displaced persons, the refugees, the persons without a home, it was about “building life,” about finding a place to “build a new life,” which many did after arriving in Canada, at times with unimpeachable success. One such shining example is found in The Canadian Encyclopedia, which writes:
One war refugee, Rosalie Abella, summarized what Pier 21 meant to her: “Opportunity, generosity, and idealism is what this Pier stands for — Canada’s best self. It is the Canada that let us in, the Canada that took one generation’s European horror story and made it into another generation’s Canadian fairytale.” Abella was born in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany in 1946 and arrived in Canada with her parents in 1950. She would go on to become the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
How far she has come: Yasher Koach. This is a great success by any standard and all the more so knowing the humble beginnings of Rosalie Silberman Abella, to wit, having started out life in a DP camp in Stuttgart, Germany, symbolically on July 1, 1946. She was appointed to Canada’s highest court by Prime Minster Paul Martin in August 2004, where she continues to serve honourably.

In a powerful commencement speech Justice Abella made to graduates of Brandeis University in Massachusetts (on May 21, 2017), she recounts lessons learned from her childhood, post-war, which no doubt influenced her thinking: “Indifference is injustice’s incubator; it’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for; and we can never forget how the world looks to those who are vulnerable.”

What a gute neshome she has. This is as true today as it was 70 years ago. My father was another of these Jewish displaced persons (displaced from his home in Poland) fortunate to be allowed to come into Canada; he was 40 when he landed at Halifax’s Pier 21. He made his way via train to Toronto (a trip that likely took another few days), but he decided shortly after to move to Montreal, which then had the largest Jewish community in Canada and where there were more persons like himself, Yiddish speakers from Poland, his landslayt.

One of the first things my father did after coming to Montreal was join The Workmen’s Circle, for which he had a lifelong commitment. With their help, it was in Montreal where he quickly found work (as a cabinetmaker); it is also where he met and married my mother, in 1952, a year after arriving in Canada. It was about building a new life, replacing the one that was destroyed in Europe.

My father made his life in Montreal, which was far better and safer than the Europe he left behind. I don’t remember him saying anything about “missing Europe.” He was successful in that he did more than survive; he built a new life, worked hard and raised a family while imbuing us with a sense of purpose and identity, with Yiddishkeit. He simply followed his view that “the past belonged in the past,” while quietly maintaining the culture with which he was familiar.

He seemed content enjoying Montreal and the surrounding countryside and making trips to the American border towns in New York and Vermont, where we often spent summer vacations, in the 1970s, in cheap motels that had kitchenettes where my mother did the cooking. We didn't venture more than an hour away from home; we never for example visited New York City. He enjoyed the America he saw, as I did then, having many fond memories of the people and the places we visited.

Pier 21 closed in 1971, when air travel supplanted ship travel. There is now a national museum, The Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, which tells the stories of immigrants who arrived in Canada via ship, who started their journey here, as my father did in Halifax, in the 1950s, where he made a new life in a new land. This is never easy, but it is made easier when the process of integration is helped by those who arrived earlier.

—Perry J. Greenbaum, August 18, 2017

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Flight of the Monarchs (2012)

Beauty in Flight

Flight of the Butterfly (2012)
Via: Youtube

Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippu) are one of my favourite animals to see during summer, and these winged creatures correspond with summer, at least this is the case in my mind, as I have come to view the world since childhood. They start their journey from central Mexico, a distance of 4,800 km, making this annual flight the world’s longest insect migration. What is all the more wonderful to behold is that this annual migration (both in the spring and the fall) involves multi-generations, Wikipedia explains:
Starting in September and October, eastern and northeastern populations migrate from southern Canada and the United States to overwintering sites in central Mexico where they arrive around November. They start the return trip in March, arriving around July. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip; female monarchs lay eggs for the next generation during the northward migration[2] and at least four generations are involved in the annual cycle.
While scientists in the last decade have been reporting a declining population of monarchs, the good news is that I have seen more monarchs this year than the combined sightings of the last few years. I have not been able to take any photos of monarchs, but my youngest son did manage to take a picture of another orange- or pumpkin-coloured butterfly, what seems like an eastern comma butterfly (Polygonia comma) during one of our recent nature walks at the park near our place of residence.

Eastern Comma Butterfly (Toronto): This was taken by our nine-year-old son, Eli, during one of our nature walks.
Photo Credit: Eli G. Greenbaum; July 2017

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reading Now (August 2017): The Puttermesser Papers

Heavenly Comedy

“Yeder mentsh hot zikh zayn pekl.”

The Puttermesser Papers, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York City, is Cynthia Ozick’s fourth novel; she is known for her short stories and essays, including The Pagan Rabbi and Other Stories (1971), All the World Wants the Jews Dead (1974) and The Shawl (1989). This is another recent find at a second-hand bookstore, where I paid 50 cents. I am enjoying the book from one of America’s finest writers.
Photo Credit: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

The Puttermesser Papers (1997), by Cynthia Ozick [born April 17, 1928, in New York City], is a collection of five stories centered on the life of Ruth Puttermesser. There are many Puttermessers spun out of the imagination of Ozick, including a feminist and a creator of a golem who helps her become mayor of New York. The novel, although comic in tone, is a search for meaning and a place to fit in, but not necessarily through the usual social channels.

The book begins with her at age 34, a New Yorker living alone in her parents’ apartment in the Bronx. She is an intelligent but restless New York Jew who decides to quit her job at a “blue-blood” Wall Street law firm, mainly because she sees no future. The scene describing the New England-schooled partners taking out Puttermesser for a farewell meal is priceless, only because I have had similar experiences in my professional working life:
An anthropological meal. They explored the rites of her tribe. She had not known she was strange to them. Their beautiful manners were the cautiousness you adopt when you visit the interior: Dr. Livingstone, I presume? They shook hands and wished her luck, and at that moment, so close to their faces with those moist smile-ruts flowing from the sides of their waferlike noses punctuated by narrow, even nostrils. (8)
Puttermesser, it should be noted, is Yiddish for “butter knife,“ which suggests how easily a knife like this can cut through butter. At least a good well-made butter knife can do such a trick. As names go, it is not a pretty one, something her uncle Zindel points out:
And such a name. A nice young fellow meets such a name, he laughs. You should change it to something different, lovely, nice. Shapiro. Levine. Cohen. Goldweiss. Blumenthal. I don’t say make it different, who needs Adams, who needs McKee, I say make it a name not a joke. Your father gave you a bad present with it. (15)
With a name like this, was her fate sealed, “as it is written.” Perhaps all the good names were already taken when names were handed out many generations ago in the old country. Does the book suggest that the gods are laughing? I think so; and we humans are not only not amused, we are also oblivious to it, so much are we consumed by our own thoughts of self-importance. Such concerns touch no one and are of little consequence other than to ourselves. Such is the way it is; such is the way it has been written. What can one do?

Most just play along, but I can’t resist remarking on the absurdity of our actions and our many moral failings, the decisions that we make and don’t make, and how our laws don’t necessarily line up with progressive human morality that invokes not blind justice but thoughtful mercy. (Biblical morality is long on obedience and justice and short on love and mercy; this forms the basis of western law, or so it seems to me on what I have read and observed.)

Humans have an ability to make many wrong decisions, including wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. I can understand a morally wrong decision made for the right reason, but not one for the wrong reason. Stealing a loaf of bread because you are hungry is far different than you embezzling millions to feed a jet-set life-style. I have sympathy for the former but none for the latter. Under the eyes of the law, however, both are equally guilty.

Yet, this is where literature can help us understand the difference between the two, A good review of Ozick is found in The New York Times Magazine article (“Cynthia Ozicks’s Long Crusade;” June 23, 2016) by Gilles Harvey:
According to Ozick, literature is different from all other human activities, and its singularity consists in its recognizing and honoring human difference. Its purpose, she has said, is “to light up the least grain of being, to show how it is concretely individual, particularized from any other.”
This is not a new argument, but it is one that bears repeating. This is important to understand, and once you do you will forever be changed in thoughts and actions. A few earnest individuals will take this to heart, but not many by my reckoning. Sad to report that I have in the last decade or two met only a handful of such people in my life. This is not surprising, since most decent folks focus on survival (economically, financially) and do not spend too much time considering such existential questions.

But then again so were the many Yiddish speakers—self-taught, self-educated—who formed a good part of my father’s generation, part of my father’s landsmen. They viewed survival as not enough, that they had to do more than survive, that their mission in life was helping not only themselves but also others achieve their potential, chiefly by improving conditions for all. They did not sit there and wait for the messiah to come; they acted on their convictions. Hope is acting on the belief that it will not always remain hopeless.

Given the meshugas around her, Ruth Puttermesser didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t, understand this simple truth, but then again Cynthia Ozick didn’t allow her to even consider this in this crazy dark comedy she wrote—where all roads are paved with fabrications, prevarications and stories that have the basis of truth but are fare from it—much like the politics of today, and like much of the world that we inhabit. It is, after all, only fiction. Yet, others who live in the same world as Puttermesser might say in Yiddish: Trevst mayn folk; eyn tog es vet ale zeyn beser.

—Perry J. Greenbaum; August 14, 2017

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Hannah Roth: Shtil di Nakht iz Oysgeshternt (1942)

“We will not allow them to take us like sheep to the slaughter.”
Motto of the FPO

Via: Youtube

As promised in yesterday’s post, here is another Jewish partisan song by Hirsch Glick: Shtil di Nakht iz Oysgeshternt (“The Silent Night is Full of Stars”), composed in the summer of 1942 while in the Vilna Ghetto. The song’s hero is the Jewish female partisan, Vitka Kempner-Kovner [1920; Poland–2012; Israel], a founding member, along with her husband Abba Kovner, of the Fareynigte Partizaner Organizatsye, or FPO (United Partisan Organization), dedicated to Jewish armed resistance of the Nazis. The song is set to a Russian melody.

I believe the singer is Hannah Roth, and that she sung this in the 1960s, but I post this without confirmation or certainty of the singer. If this is incorrect, please let me know, and I will make the necessary correction, giving credit where it is due. Even so, I like this version the best of all that I found online. If you know of a better version, please let me know.

Shtil di Nakht iz Oysgeshternt 
by Hirsch Glick
[Yiddish transliteration]

Shtil di nakht iz oysgeshternt
un der frozt hat shtark gebrent,
Tsi gedenkstu vi ikh hob dikh gelernt,
haltn a shpayer in di hent.

A moyd, a peltsl un a beret,
un halt in hant fezt a nagan,
a moyd mit a zametenem ponim,
hit op dem soynes karavan.

Getsilt, geshozn un getrofn,
hot ir kleyninker piztoyl,
an oyto a fulinkn mit vofn,
farhaltn hot zi mit eyn koyl.

Fartog fun vald aroysgekrokhn,
mit shney girlandn oyf di hor,
gemutikt fun kleyninkn nitsokhn,
far undzer nayem frayen dor.

The Quiet Night is Full of Stars

The quiet night is full of stars
and the frost has strongly burned
Do you remember how I have taught you
how to hold a revolver in your hand?

A girl, a little fur coat and a beret
and she holds tight a Nagant pistol in her hand.
A girl with a face of velvet
watches for the enemy’s caravan.

Aimed, shot and met the traget
her little pistol did.
A car, nice and full with weapons
she stopped it with a bullet.

Before daybreak, she crawled out of the woods
with snow-garlands in her hair,
cheered on by the small, dear victory
for our new, free generation.

Hirsch Glick never that saw reality, but the heroine in the song, Vitka Kempner, did. She arrived in Palestine in July 1946, settling in Kibbutz Ein ha-Horesh, in central Israel, north of Netanya. Vitka Kempner and Abba Kovner married and had two children, Michael and Shlomit.

In 1965, almost 20 years after the State of Israel was established, Kempner-Kovner went to Bar Ilan University, studying psychology at the age of 45, completing two degrees in three years. Determination and perseverance. Afterward, she worked as a psychologist on the kibbutz, using her training and experience to educate and counsel children.

As the article in Jewish Women's Archive says, “she describes herself not as a survivor but only as strong. ‘I lived life fully, actively, without dragging grievances and offenses behind me.’ ”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Chava Alberstein: Zog Nit Keyn Mol (1943)

Via: Youtube:

Chava Albertstein [born in 1947 in Szczecin, Poland], an Israeli singer and champion of Yiddish, sings the famous Zog Nit Keyn Mol (“Never Say”), also called “Hymn of the Partisans.”

This song has long been considered the anthem of Holocaust survivors. You can hear one such person sing [here] and another, Annie Lederhendler [here], during a reception for Abraham Sutzkever [1913–2010], former partisan and Yiddish poet, at the Jewish Public Library of Montreal on April 17, 1959.

You can also listen to a version [here] by American singer Paul Robeson during a visit he made to the USSR in June 1949. While there, Robeson met briefly with Itzik Feffer, one of the Yiddish poets that Stalin ordered to be executed in what is called “The Night of the Murdered Poets” (see below). Robeson decided to keep the meeting secret, not revealing what Feffer told him in “so many words.” Or rather, so little words.

Hirsch Glick (1922, Wilno, Poland–1944, Estonia), a Jewish poet and partisan, wrote the lyrics to the song while he was being held in the Vilna Ghetto during the Nazi occupation; he was 21. A fine history of the song is provided by the site, Songs of My People, by Josephine Yalovitser:
The news from the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising inspired Hirsch to write the lyrics. In 1937, Dmitry and Daniel Pokrass wrote the song “Terek Cossacks.” Hirsh uses the melody for his lyrics. “Zog nit keynmol” became a symbol of defiance against Nazi murderers of the Jews, the Holocaust and The Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Jewish partisan fighters from The Warsaw Ghetto, Naliboki forest, Minsk Ghetto, Lodz Ghetto... sang this song to fortify their courage, and to celebrate “their victories” against the Nazis.
Glick attempted to escape from the Vilno Ghetto, however, he got re-captured and put near Riga (Estonia) in a concentration camp where he got executed.
In Yiddish, Vilna is Vilne. It is now called Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. Hirsch lived a short time, yet this song, and another that he wrote, Shtil di nakht iz oysgeshternt (“The silent night is full of stars”), in the summer of 1942, inspired many. This song is about the heroic action of a female partisan, Vitka Kempner-Kovner [1920; Poland–2012; Israel], a founding member, along with her husband Abba Kovner, of the Fareynigte Partizaner Organizatsye, or FPO (United Partisan Organization). I plan to post this song shortly.

Zog Nit Keyn Mol
by Hirsh Glick
[YIVO Institute for Jewish Research]

The Night of the Murdered Poets

Here is a public service announcement regarding “The Night of the Murdered Poets,” from Talia Zax of the Forward, who writes in an article (“65 Years Ago, The USSR Murdered its Greatest Jewish Poets. What’s Left of Their Legacy?” August 11, 2017):
No one seems to know exactly how many Soviet Jews were secretly executed by the Soviet Union in the basement of Moscow’s Lubyanka Prison on August 12, 1952.
A 1970 New York Times report on the fate of Yiddish in the USSR claimed the victims numbered around 30. A 1972 volume commemorating the event, released by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, had the number at 24. The Jewish Virtual Library lists the names of 13 victims, a number corroborated by the The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz, but the Jewish World Review has their number at 15, as, with a caveat, does a chronicle of the Stalinist Soviet Union’s anti-Semitic turn, “Stalin’s Secret Pogrom,” published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Yet it’s largely agreed that five of those figures were poets and writers, some of them high-profile figures both at home and abroad.
The poet Perets Markish was the only Soviet Yiddish writer to receive the Order of Lenin, one of the U.S.S.R.’s most high-profile honors. (He was awarded it in 1939.) Dovid Bergelson, who published articles and fiction in the Forverts from Berlin in the 1920s, was thought by some to be the fourth great pillar of Yiddish literature, after Mendele Mokher Sforim, Sholem Aleichem and I.L. Peretz. In 1922, Dovid Hofshteyn published a collection of poems about Ukrainian pogroms called “Troyer” — in English, “Mourning” — that was illustrated by Marc Chagall.
Yet the full cultural cost of the massacre now known as the Night of the Murdered Poets remains, as evidenced by the confusion over who, exactly, was killed, unclear.
In a 2015 video for the Forverts, Boris Sandler described the Night of the Murdered Poets as marking the end of Jewish hopes for a future in the Soviet Union.
By this time, the writing was on the wall for Soviet Jews: it was time to get out, to a safe haven. Once they were permitted to leave, no easy task by any means, Israel provided such a welcoming place for the majority of Soviet Jews. Israel’s establishment decades earlier, in 1948, ensured this reality.

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon: Arriving Early

Respecting Time: 1:23

Effective this week, I am changing the name of my weekly column to “The Happy Yidisher Curmudgeon,” in keeping with its changing focus. The addition of the adjective says that I am going from the general to the particular, but such is no surprise when you consider that the particular often gives us a view of the general, or leads us to it. In this case, it is found in the particulars of Yiddishkeit, Jewish culture and values. My hope is that you will keep on reading my column.


Punctuality is the virtue of the bored.”
Evelyn Waugh [1903–1966],
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (1976)

“Afile der raykhster zeyger hot nit mer vi zekhtsik minut.”
[Even the most expensive clock has no more than sixty minutes.]

I don’t like arriving late, so, accounting for the possibilities of delay, I tend to leave early enough. The result of such a habit is that I often arrive early; I rarely am late and rarely arrive just on time. My wife finds it annoying to arrive early and, thinking that she has more time than she does, wants to leave later; she wants to arrive right on time, since she finds waiting a waste of time.

I don’t mind, particularly if it means not arriving late. I can always read, which is why I carry a book with me; or I can write, which is why I carry a notebook. I can also listen to the radio, if I go somewhere by car, which is often enough.

Being late, when you can arrive early, is surely a sign of disrespect, of rudeness. I don’t want to intentionally be rude. I don’t understand what it means to be “fashionably late.” Is this 15 minutes? 30 minutes? an hour? Speaking of fashion, I do like to dress for the occasion and this at times means being well dressed. Perhaps some people take longer to get dressed, but don’t they know how long they usually take? So, if this is the case I don’t see how this also means being late.

It is true that I (and my wife) more often than not arrive early at dinner invitations, community events and concerts of all sorts; although it does not always happen, we are the first to arrive. I always view this as wonderful. All the better, since this means we can find a good parking spot, or we can get to know the hosts, or we can have the opportunity to help out, or we can get the best seats or we can just have sufficient time to catch our breath and adjust to the surroundings. There is really no down side to arriving early.

It makes perfect sense to arrive early; it makes perfect sense to leave early enough so not to arrive late. I don’t understand why so many people are late, and why some people make a habit out of it. Are we back to the fashionably late excuse? I would think that it is best for human relationships to always try not to arrive late, if at all possible.

Invariably, there are people you can “count on” for showing up late. I have known a few such persons who were routinely late. One such couple, many decades ago, ensured me that under no circumstances would they be late for my wedding; they were, and missed the complete ceremony. They had an excuse; they left late and had gotten lost on the way to the khupe, in a beautiful Orthodox shul in Montreal’s Hampstead neighbourhood.  (Yes, it’s as beautiful and wealthy as the name sounds.)

As for the couple, they always seemed sincere about it, so I chalked it up to their habits. At least they showed up to the reception on time. How they managed this I am not sure.

Perhaps such persons are worried that punctuality is equated with boredom, which is what Evelyn Waugh is quoted as saying. I don’t agree with Mr. Waugh, however, and I know his death many decades ago prevents him from defending himself, but I arrive early not because I am bored; quite the contrary. I am excited to get somewhere.

It can equally be argued that some make a virtue out of lateness, so in the spirit of Waugh, but without the wit of Waugh, here is a quick quip: “Lateness is the virtue of the careless.” It also invites and evokes thoughts and feelings of chaos. Are these desirable feelings? I don’t think so, but who am I to say?

There have been times when I have arrived late, but this was not the result of leaving late, but of encountering excessive traffic, getting the wrong directions or other factors beyond my control. I have never missed a flight or a train, and I have never arrived late for important life-cycle events. This is because I am careful about time and give it the respect that it is due. Some would say that I am too time-conscious, and so I am. I can understand being late some of the time, but not all of the time.

There is no such thing as arriving on time. People usually arrive early or arrive late. I would rather be early for everything except the time of my death. In that case, death can wait.
 Toyt ken kumen shpeter; toyt ken nemen a lange vakatsye.

—Perry J. Greenbaum, August 11, 2017

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Healing the Sores

Angel Wings: 1:22
“Happy is the man…”

“The lost dog who sleeps on a bed of rags
behind the garage won’t appear
to beg for anything. Nothing will explain
where the birds have gone, why a wind rages
through the ash trees, why the world
goes on accepting more and more rain.”
Philip Levine [1928–2015],
Rain in Winter” (2016)

In pairs,
as if to illustrate their sisterhood,
the sisters pace the hospital garden walks.
In their robes black and white immaculate hoods
they are like birds,
the safe domestic fowl of the House of God.

O biblic birds, who fluttered to me in my childhood illnesses
—me little, afraid, ill, not of your race, —
the cool wing for my fever, the hovering solace,
the sense of angels—
be thanked, O plumage of paradise, be praised.
—A.M. Klein [1909–1972], 

There is much to be said and found in the poetry of A.M. Klein, a Canadian poet but more of a Montrealer as I am one (since the city is so instrumental in forming the man), whose use of religious imagery make us acutely aware of earthly concerns, including those of place and identity. Much of the politics of identity that we are witnessing today comes from a place of hurt, and more often than not is a result of many unhealed sores that inflict people’s souls, taking away their sense of  self, their very dignity.

Much of the anger evident today comes from this place of humiliation; anger is a response to loss of belief, a sense of betrayal, to thoughts that “no one cares.” Belief leads to hope. And real hope as it implies can never be an abstract idea; it must be taken as real and robust. Someone should care; even if most don’t; someone with a sense of righteousness and the ability to do something should care. I recommend also the reading of Philip Levine, an American poet born during the Great Depression, and who never forgot the past and the importance of giving voice to the voiceless. Building life.

Toronto is an expensive city in which to live, and our money does not purchase much in the way of comfort. It is more American than Canadian (“Toronto is a kind of New York operated by the Swiss,” actor Peter Ustinov said of the city’s efficiency in a Globe & Mail interview (August 1, 1987)). Even if the actor meant it as a compliment, it sounds as if he was damning with faint praise the city. After all, Toronto has neither the charm nor the beauty of Montreal, yet for now I remain here, looking for signs of renewal and redemption, for a softening of the ground.

As an outsider, as one living in exile, I have witnessed many incidents of humiliation and this is one of those things that having lived it, you wish with deepest desire to escape. Writing provides an intellectual and an emotional space, a place to work out the sacred vision, but it does not contribute in my case to any significant secular means of provision. Upward mobility is a chimera, a winged creature that falls to the grounds, never taking flight, never cooling the wrinkled brows of failed dreams and broken crowns.

Lack of success (in many cases) has nothing to do with lack of trying or lack of willpower. That’s only in Hollywood movies, where the pep talk leads to success. I wish this were true, but it’s not. Neither is getting a good education, or having years of work experience, or knowledge or intelligence or being a decent guy; the facts are all there to see. One or two losses (job, house, health, etc.) can set you back indefinitely; three or four will set you back even longer. The problems are much deeper and much wider than even the media know or report, although admittedly the media manage to do a good job in telling such stories.

No, I don’t fault the government, since Canada provides a generous and comprehensive social safety net and this safety net remains in place no matter the political party in power. (There is no guarantee, however, that this can’t change.) No, the fault lies elsewhere, deriving from a certain ethos that predominates south of the Canadian border, one that has infiltrated and infused our thinking with malevolent intentions.

An ethos that takes delight in violence and hostility; an ethos that thrives on disorder and chaos, an ethos that operates on lies and deceptions. An ethos that gives license for the rich to exploit the poor, thus uplifting higher only the few that require no uplifting. All for the love of money–a love of so deep a devotion that it causes a multitude of others so much pain and suffering, so much humiliation and anger. So many places venerate the dumb gods of materialism and consumerism, in keeping with their spiritual denudation.

There is no other word to describe this ethos of selfishness and greed than “cruel.” This is a gross failure of understanding, hiding behind policy and political trickery so as to not appear cruel. But cruelty is cruelty, no matter how you slice it or pretend otherwise. The solution to pain and suffering is not more pain and suffering; yet, this is what some think and do. They are cruel men and women, unlike the “Sisters of the Hotel Dieu.” If you have walked in such shoes for only a while, you will understand. The sores are painful; the scabs are formed on top of the old ones.

This is what I have been writing about the last seven years; and now I am screaming. My voice is raw and now it hurts. I can't continue to scream. Others must now keep on writing, so as to protect the values that we care about, protecting society’s most vulnerable, including the land under our feet, and holding on to a religious belief that values social good and common good—a religion that doesn’t benefit or bank on the accumulation of cruelty. A religion that improves the human condition, that uplifts people and gives them dignity and hope is the only faith that anyone should consider. Religion needs to remember what its ultimate purpose is for us.

A devotion to goodness, love and truth; a devotion to healing the sores.

—Perry J. Greenbaum,  July 28, 2017

I am taking some time off for a change in scenery, and perhaps try on a few new hats, adding to my small collection; I hope to return sometime in August.