Sunday, December 20, 2009


I finished it. Dr. Weinfeld’s book, I mean. I’m not sure how to wrap up my thoughts about the best book I’ve ever read in one measly little blog post, but I’d like to share a few of my favourite parts and notes from the book.

Firstly, I have to share my most favourite paragraph from the whole book. I showed it to all of my family members in Winnipeg and I think a lot of them really liked it.

Jews love to eat, and then to complain about how they “overate” at the most recent holiday, wedding, or bat mitzvah. No festival at an Ashkenazi home, including Friday night Sabbath meals, is complete without a fresh challah, gefilte fish, chicken soup, a nice kugel (there are two types of Ashkenazi Jews, some pronounce it kugel, some pronounce it kigel), chicken or roast beef, knishes, carrot tzimmes. Jews believe they have a special relationship with food, in much the same way that non-Jews have with alcohol. My students routinely downgrade the importance of food as a component of ethnic culture or identity. They think it is superficial. They want ethnicity, identity, and multiculturalism to be something deeper. What do they know? Pass the brisket (204).

I love that. It’s just the way I felt when I read the part about Dr. Weinfeld gagging at the thought of a salami sandwich and a glass of milk (I lost that fight at work, by the way).

Anyways, I am often guilty of the same mistake that Dr. Weinfeld’s students are described to routinely make in this paragraph. I’m always waiting for the “real” thing to come along and I forget that the big picture is made up of little pieces like chicken soup, mezuzahs or Styrofoam cups of instant coffee (for me, anyways). I am enamoured with the notion that ‘being Jewish’ might be what any individual makes it. I know I don’t count, but I feel like I can access some of the big mystery that makes up Jewish identity. I’d love to learn more about what makes up that identity in Canada.

I took down a lot of notes and they’re too disjointed to share and really make anything decent but I will share one observation that I was pretty interested. It’d make a great content analysis, I think. Dr. Weinfeld says “The Lubavitch Hasidim were among the first to pioneer the use of worldwide live TV when they began broadcasting the farbrengen and commentaries of the late Rebbe” (296). We have a Lubavitch synagogue here (that’s where dad and I take JLI: Jewish Learning Institute classes sometimes). Their website, though, is so above and beyond the Conservative and Reform Synagogues’ websites. The Orthodox Synagogue has a more involved website than the other two, but none of them are quite as appealing as the Lubavitch one. They are all well made and informative, but the Lubavitch website is far more visually appealing and more interactive than the rest. I am not sure what that means, if anything, but I was wondering if the Lubavitch’s habit of being on the cutting edge of “marketing” technology is helpful to them when it comes to attendance.I think people view Hasidim as so much more traditional and parochial, and the fact that the Lubavitch in Calgary create a website like this one as compared to the rest of the synagogues, I think it's just a fascinating paradox.

Thanks so much, Dr. Weinfeld.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Calgary Jewish Film Festival, 1 of 2

I am fortunate enough this week to attend the event that first made me interested in Jewish identity and sociology itself in the first place. Four years ago, I walked into the Beth Tzedec synagogue and walked out a changed person. I guess I really had no idea at the time what would happen or how that day would change my life (and hopefully the direction of it).

Last night dad and I saw The Case for Israel, which is based on a book written by Alan Dershowitz. It was really interesting. It almost came off like a conspiracy theory. I'm not saying they're right or wrong or that their scope is appropriate or not, I don't know enough about it. It was really interesting though. We were also fortunate enough to have Gloria Greenfield, one of the producers of the film, as a guest speaker. She talked about the movie and some things that have changed since the film was finished (x is no longer the prime minister, etc, etc) and some more current events like the ones they showed in the movie. She was an extremely interesting speaker and she and the film said a lot of things about the UN that I didn't know about.

Anyways, now for the thoughts I wanted to share. First of all, we were sitting there and my dad asked me what time it was. 7:01. "No kidding, they're late" and I said something about how in my limited religious experience (both Jewish AND Lutheran) I wasn't sure that I'd ever been to any event that started on time. Which is when dad said "They're always waiting for one more person". I thought that was funny and I asked him if he really thought it was due to an overwhelming sense of optimism.

The second thing I thought about was that thing about honouring one's ancestors. I'm not sure why I never thought of it before, but isn't that also a large part of Chinese culture? I have no idea but I'd really like to look into it. Someday I might even get a chance.

Something profound that someone said in the movie was "It never ends with the Jews". I don't know all my facts, obviously, but it seems that killing Jews is much like burning books and stuff in that it's not a good sign for everyone else. I remember one day when I was very Christian, my dad said that once (I'm sorry for any latent racism that I'm passing on on his behalf) Muslims are done killing all the Jews they'll just move on to the Christians. It seems like a fairly reasonable statement, though (the "it never ends with the Jews part).

A big parallel that they pointed out was the apparent policies of appeasement today and when they appeased Hitler before the second world war. One person in the film mentioned that just because Ahmadinejad may be crazy, he can't be discounted as such. He needs to be taken at face value. This is something else that sparked my interest because at first glance it looks like an entirely appropriate parallel.

The other main theme (I'd say) of the film was that the UN is corrupt and doesn't do what it was originally designed to do. Again, taken at face value based on the information in the film, this appears to be true. Especially based on the fact that Israel has been the focus of more human rights abuses charges than any of the other countries in the UN combined. Again, this is all very new to me and I should know more about Israel based on what I'm interested in, but it seems pretty counterintuitive for Israel to have been the worst human rights violator in the entire UN. They are a completely democratic country, any citizen (Arab Israelis included) can bring a petition to the Supreme Court. This would also be interested to look into.

At one point, Professor Dershowitz claims that Israel is the only country in the world that has to stand up to allegations against its right to exist.

I really have to go to work now. I'm really excited to see more movies on Sunday at the film fest. I hope I'll have lots of interesting things to talk about (I know I'll have lots to think about).

I think I realized that the thing that makes me require carrying a notebook around with me (which I have not been doing recently but should) is that I have what feels like little epiphanies all over the place. It's too bad it's so dark in the film fest, then I could write more!


Saturday, November 14, 2009


Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be sent to a fun lunch speaker series at the Roundup Centre. The speaker's name was Keith Ferazzi and he spoke about passion. As, of course, most of them do. The different thing that he really focused on was building relationships.

The thought that I came across when I was there that I wanted to share really has nothing to do with the presentation.

I was thinking about the creation of identity through different sources. I was considering the difference between someone like myself and a Francophone Jew in Quebec as an example. Compare different sources: American (English) pop culture, local Jewish communities, books, going to synagogue, family (the list could go on forever). What about that though? What might make these primary or secondary? There would be a difference in the strength, level of accessibility and degree of availability (along other variables, of course) with different sources. Like, for instance, I get a lot more of my Jewish identity from the American pop culture whereas a French Jew in Montreal would get his or hers more from the local Jewish community. This would account for a lot of variety, I'd guess. Am I stating the obvious? I suppose this is true of any ethnic or religious group but perhaps it is magnified because Jews are an ethnic AND religious group.

I'm sorry if I'm stating an obvious truth, it's just what I was thinking about.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Our Jewish World

I just discovered the most fantastic show! It's called "Our Jewish World" and it's on the Christian channel!

In other news, the trip to Montreal was a gleaming success: I fell so deeply in love with that city in only 3 days, I think about it every day. I would be so happy to get to live and study there. My meeting with Dr. V. went very well.

Another of my recent trips across the country was the one I made this week to Winnipeg for a funeral. I have been to a Jewish funeral before but I was too young to remember it now. On Thursday I saw a lot of Canadian Jewish identity in the funeral service. [As an aside: I should say that what I will comment on here probably sounds harsh and cold, since it refers to the funeral of a family member. I do not mean it to seem that way, but I'd just like to share what I noticed as I am not the type of person who shares her emotions anyways.]

Firstly, this is completely unrelated and I didn't even notice it until my aunt mentioned it, but the Rabbi looked and sounded very much like Alan Arkin (who I happen to love). He also gave a beautiful speech that I sincerely hope spoke to the rest of the people at the funeral as it did me. His speech began with the story of a couple who drove across the country to Banff, Alberta (from Winnipeg) for their first wedding anniversary. My aunt and uncle (of course) had bought a twenty-five dollar tent and slept under the stars in the Rockies. He compared the scene to the ancient scene described in Genesis 15:5: "And he brought him outside, and said to him, Look, now, toward the skies and number the stars, if you are able to number them; and he said to him, So your sons will be". The Rabbi extrapolated the comparison to say more things about Jews. He said that, like stars, Jews are brighter together. Like stars, Jews are brighter the closer you get to them. There were others as well, but I can't remember any of them. It was absolutely beautiful though; the analogy was breathtaking. But it was also academically interesting. My experience with funerals is not vast, nor would I like it to be, but I find it quite fascinating that even when we celebrate someone's life in this way we still like to categorize them to a group. This was a story of Jewish continuity: from Abraham to my uncle's grandchildren.

Most of my experiences with Judaism have gone along with this theme. Yom Kippur services (what I could understand of them) had a lot of thematic elements relating to ancestry. Dr. Weinfeld quotes Alti Rodal (a modern Jewish historian): "You are the grandchildren of people endowed with a powerful instinct for survival. To my mother's blessing, 'May life be good to you,' I add: May the strength of all your grandparents give you strength to withstand life's trials - we we owe it to them. And may the perseverance and values of their heritage be expressed through you, within and beyond our community, so that we survive" (218). I would argue that the powerful instinct for survival doesn't just refer to physical survival but also cultural survival. Perhaps this is understood in the quote, I'm not completely sure. I hope I'm not stating the obvious. I often feel like Judaism instills a sense of responsibility towards one's grandparents and further ancestors. I'm certain that Jews aren't the only people who feel this way, but I think it's inherent in Judaism.

In my paper that I handed in to Dr. Wong for Soci 475, I wrote about three main features of Jewish identity in Canada. The first was collective memory by way of the holocaust. There was no holocaust talk during the funeral service itself but there was a beautiful, fascinating artifact in the chapel where the family was sitting. There was a plaque explaining that the six lamps beneath it burn perpetually as a reminder of the six million Jews slaughtered in Europe. I wish I could remember what it said from beginning to end but I just can't remember everything it said. There are also seven small headstone-like things beneath it, each with the name of a concentration camp on it. It was absolutely fascinating. I wish there was a photo online that I could add here but of course there isn't.

The second feature I wrote about was the use of Hebrew and Yiddish. There was no Yiddish in the service as all religious services are conducted in Hebrew and English in most Conservative synagogues (and most other denominations as well). Of course, a great deal of the service was in Hebrew. I so wish I understood Hebrew but it's still something I feel at home around. I think it's really cool that somehow Hebrew (and Yiddish in some cases) are conserved within Judaism while at the same time adapting to the language used in the country in question (like English or French in Canada). To be able to simultaneously value a religious language but also be able to adapt to current trends or locations. I think that's very powerful. To be able to embrace pragmatism and traditionalism at the same time is really remarkable.

(my third feature was about the upward social mobility of Jews in North America, but I'm not concerned with it here. I'm cheating and choosing a third feature instead)

Thirdly, a connection with Israel. It is customary to place a piece of earth or sand in the casket. This is not only a very strong part of being part of a diaspora but also makes up a great deal of Jewish identity all the way over here in Canada. My uncle never set foot in Israel, as far as I know, but it is an important part of Jewish life everywhere. Additionally, Israel didn't even exist with any physical borders when my uncle was born. Not that that means much of anything but I just thought it was interesting.

I wish I had a conclusion to share that meant something. Unfortunately, my only conclusion is that perhaps the manifestation of Jewish identity in Canada in a funeral service would be an interesting study.

Thanks for listening (reading). I had hoped to share some of the great things I read in Dr. Weinfeld's book but I, once again, got sidetracked by things.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Work project

I just had to share my EXCITEMENT about getting to work on a statistics project for work. A new "mega-mall" opened in Balzac, just North of Calgary, and we did a little mini-survey at work to see if their opening affected our sales at all. Our property manager, my direct supervisor, has given me the go ahead to try my hand at analysing the results!

I'm VERY excited about this and I'll definitely keep the updates coming about this exciting topic. Wish me luck!


Monday, September 7, 2009

Like Everyone Else But Different: The Paradoxical Success of Canadian Jews

I had seen this book in a lot of reference sections and been very attracted to the title (obviously, right?). Anyways, it nearly inspired a topic for a paper that I had to write but was discouraged from writing it when I was told by my professor that Jews generally do not succeed any more than any other immigrant/minority group (I’d at least argue that the jury is still out on that one, at least). None of that is super important though. This fantastic book is written by Dr. Morton Weinfeld, a sociology professor and my academic hero (let's be fair: one of my academic heroes). I eventually checked the U of C library for it and checked it out. After I fell in love with this out-of-print book in the first few pages, I bought a used copy on amazon and now I'm falling more in love with it every page.

I didn't really take any notes the first few chapters (I'm on chapter 5 now), but I wanted to share a few of my favourite things about this book.

Firstly, it's written so that anyone could understand it (I think so, at least). I loaned it to my dad and I'm not really sure if he cared to read it or not, but I know he could if he felt like it. [An aside: Linda always said that her trick to understanding something was that she would visualize explaining it to her dad. Her dad, like mine, did not have a university degree. I have always been able to relate to that because it is a lot of my theory about teaching things. I fell into being a math tutor because when I was in Junior and Senior High, people would come to me sometimes for help with something in math and explaining it to them always helped me understand it more deeply.] I feel like making sociology accessible to more (“regular”) people is a beautiful way to share passion for the discipline. It would also be nice if a few more people knew what sociology is when I tell them that’s what my degree is in. Sometimes I imagine writing a newspaper column called "Everyday Sociology" (or something a little catchier) where I get to share my sociological thoughts about every day things. That's one of the most wonderful things about sociology: you get to do it anytime, in reference to anything. It'd be all about things that make me go "hmmm".

Second, the book feels so overwhelmingly comfortable. It's like a warm sweater on a cold day, watching the snow fall in the backyard with a cup of tea (or something a little less cliché), you know? I love how, especially in the introduction, he talks about so many things that I can completely relate to thinking about. For instance, anyone who knows me knows that I cannot handle hearing about how Madonna practices Kabbalah. Dr. Weinfeld says "If Auschwitz was not the end of the line, neither will be Madonna dabbling in Kabbalah" (5). Which is very true, according to all maturity and logic. And it makes me feel better about the whole thing. I understand, after reading that, that my outrageous hatred for something as stupid as Madonna wearing a red ribbon on her wrist is totally unwarranted. Who cares if she wants a little piece of this great puzzle for herself. That's something else I love about this book: it makes me challenge myself, both academically and personally. It not only teaches me facts about Jewish immigration to Canada, early anti-Semitism, Jewish demography (past and present), earnings, relationships, culture, religion, Israel (the list goes on and on); but it also tells me that some of my personal beliefs, thoughts and feelings need to be adjusted or at least reviewed. When I read that quote I thought "he's right, how can that hurt" and it took my unnecessary anger away.

Another great part in the introduction that I fell in love with was Dr. Weinfeld's Personal Biases

"Not for one second do I think that my brand of Jewishness has a monopoly on virtue. It just happens to suit me" (9). If only more people could feel this way. I feel that people should be free to choose a belief system that suits them and stick to it as something that just happens to work for them. When people start raving about [insert phrase here] as the one true [religion/God/you name it], that's where we start getting into trouble. I just love that quote. I think it's fabulous.

"I eat cheeseburgers, as well as bacon and pork spareribs, but refuse to eat ham, shrimp, and lobster, and gag at the thought of a glass of milk with a salami sandwich...I will even schlep a box of matzo to the university Faculty Club so I can have it during Passover along with the unkosher lunch I buy there" (9-10). The thing that I related to the very most about this quote was the part about the milk with a salami sandwich. I'm not eating meat right now, but a corned beef sandwich is one of my very favourite Winnipeg delicacies. In Calgary, there's a great, charming, delicious place called Keith's deli. Natalie, my very best friend, and I used to go there a lot in highschool for lunch. She'd always order turkey and I'd get a corned beef sandwich. Of course, it's nothing like Winnipeg corned beef but pretty good anyways. The first time I ordered it, however, I realized that they put something a little unorthodox (pun intended?) on it. CHEESE. I'm still raving about it five or seven years later.

From the introduction alone and the feeling of the rest of the book, I have already learned a great deal about myself and about Judaism (and about my place, or lack thereof, in Judaism). In Stars of Davidother people thought of me as a Jew, and I had to come to terms with what that meant" (171). That also means something incredibly personal to me. According to my lifestyle, I am not a Jew. I don’t light Shabbat candles, eat kosher, make a habit of fasting on Yom Kippur, speak Hebrew (or Yiddish, with the exception of a few common words), look Jewish, have many Jewish friends, or other things. I still feel a little stung when people say they “got Jewed” or make other mean racial jokes, feel sick in Holocaust movies, laugh extra hard when people say Yiddish words I know in movies and feel the need to point out people who are Jewish (what is that about anyways?). This means a lot to me. I find Jewish identity so fascinating, complex, complicated and controversial and I just can’t stay away. section. It's a mini-biography. I'm definitely a member of the "sociologist as a subjective participant" camp. I don't believe for one second that any sociologist can come into a study without personal bias. To read a little bit of how Dr. Weinfeld got "here" is greatly enlightening and valuable to me. From this too-short section; I get a picture of him as a self aware, interesting, humourous, fascinating, outrageously intelligent, passionate person (who happens to be, as he says, a "committed Jew"). I have to share a little bit of this section: by Abigail Pogrebin, Nora Ephron says "I suddenly realized that whether I thought of myself as a Jew or not,

That’s part of the reason I’m dying to go to McGill. People who get to study the stuff in which they’re interested as their JOB are so lucky. I feel like I could be one of those lucky people. I think I have the passion, the smarts, the skills and the interest to do so.

Wow. I had really good intentions of writing about Chapter 4 today but this is a pretty long blog post so I should probably give it a rest now. I have so many things running through my brain that I’d love to ramble about (Woody Allen, for instance), but I think I best call it a day.

Thanks for reading,

Your friendly neighbourhood grad-student-wannabe

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The first post.... who the heck is this girl?!?!?!?

As you would have read if you've checked out my profile, I am going to be applying to McGill University and I want to keep a record of my weird, frequent academic thoughts and feeble analyses of literature as best as I can. If I don't get in on my first application, I'd like to show off this blog and show them that I'm not only smart enough for grad school but also very dedicated.

You might be asking, "Why on earth would she not get in?" Well, my esteemed readers (should there be anybody out there), my marks are not as high as I (or McGill) would like them to be. In fact, they're about .4 GPA points too low. I think there is hope though. The purpose of this blog goes with my hopes, dreams, and outright logic that there has to be some flexibility and there's gotta be a way to do this. So please, buckle your seatbelts and join me in this wild (possibly boring for the average person who isn't always thinking about sociology and Jewish identity) ride!