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.