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Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016: Immersed in the spirit

I’m very much a Shabbos morning Jew. Shabbos is Yiddish for the sabbath, the day of rest from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. The highlight for many Jews is Friday night when they gather with friends or family around the dinner table to light Shabbat candles, bless wine and challah bread, and share a meal with lively conversation.

That’s my experience at least once a month when I host a Shabbat dinner. But much more regularly, I attend Shabbat morning services on Saturday at Or Shalom, the East Side synagogue that is my spiritual home. I don’t go out of duty; I go because it brings me joy and nourishes my spirit.

In his highly accessible book “Jewish with Feeling”, the late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi says Shabbos morning is our time for being in the Shabbos moment. “We’re not recovering from the previous week; we’re not starting to think about the next; we’re just totally immersed in the spirit of Shabbos.”

In line with the prohibition against work on Shabbat, we don’t take photographs, so the photo above by Reamick Lo in the Or Shalom sanctuary is from a different occasion – a Sunday rehearsal for Chanting & Chocolate. And we don’t have this many instruments on Shabbat morning. Some members like me would like to have more, some want none because an instrument might break and need repair, therefore becoming work. Our compromise is to allow drumming for Pesukei d’Zimra (Verses of Praise), the first half-hour of the service, beautifully led this morning by Rabbi Hannah Dresner. I played my Ghanaian djembe drum.

What we always have is our voices. It’s like being in a choir with the kahal (congregation) enthusiastically singing along, often adding rich harmonies. Our services never get boring because they are largely led by the members, which means they’re always different.

I lead a part of the service every couple of months, and this morning it was Shacharit, the main part leading up to the reading of the Torah. Last night and earlier this morning, I was planning and practising the prayers and melodies I’d be using. I like to combine chants with more traditional prayers, and even bring in tunes I learned from the Abayudaya Jews in Uganda. I could feel the energy of the congregation with me today and it went wonderfully well “immersed in the spirit of Shabbos.”

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Friday, Feb. 12, 2016: Successful aging

 

“Seventy,” said Roman, “it’s a major milestone. It’s nothing like turning 69. When I turn 70 [on Feb. 17] I’ll be a completely different person.” I never know when the grizzled Latvian is pulling my leg, or if he actually believes that. Roman is one of the racquetball buddies I play with at the Jewish Community Centre on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Several players plus his wife Mina and other friends joined Roman for his birthday lunch today at Shuk at 41st and Oak. Roman – behind me in the photo – is rather banged up these days with two bum knees and a bad shoulder, so he’s taking a break from playing. But when he’s on the court, he goes for every shot, screaming when he’s misses one.

These men are clear evidence that there’s life later in life. The oldest guy I play with is 87-year-old Al. The best player in the bunch, Irv, sitting across from me, is 77 with a silky smooth style and a killer shot. Next to him is Tevie, who has racquetball medals and trophies up the wazoo and is still going at 82. Next to him is David and then Alex. David is one of the younger players at 61. I told him that when I turned 61 I wrote the number down, turned the paper upside down and declared it was the new 19. A month later, it was sobering to need cataract surgery.

Tonight I pulled out one of Gail Sheehy’s excellent books, “Understanding Men’s Passages,” from my bookcase, where she says you’re never too old to benefit from exercise. “After age 70, it is psychological attitude and behavior that mostly determine the quality and duration of the third age, much more so than a man’s genes. Therefore, succesful aging in the later years becomes a career choice.”

In 2014, Sheehy published her 17th book, “Daring: My Passages: A Memoir”. In an interview, she spoke very encouragingly about the memoir process, something I’m feeling as I write these blog posts that are both of the moment and life reflective. “It was very, very cleansing,” she said. “I think anybody in their sixties or seventies if they wrote a memoir would find it a satisfying exercise in doing what we have to do at that age, which is come to terms with our lives and give a blessing to the life that we’ve lived.”

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Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016: Write a letter to stop demolitions

On Sunday, I wrote about joining a demonstration to stop rampant house demolitions in Vancouver. It made me think about listening here exactly a year ago to Dr. Jeff Halper, a Jewish-American Israeli and co-founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Also a member of Club 69. I admired his analysis and commitment to justice.

Tonight, my friend Avril Orloff sent a link for a very much related letter-writing campaign. I sent the 2,125th letter of a target of 3,200 for the Action Network letter campaign “Prime Minister Netanyahu: Don’t Build Jewish Communities on the Rubble of Bedouin Villages”.

Here is information from the campaign’s sponsor, the Jewish Coalition for the Bedouin of Um al-Hiran and Atir, and below is a link if you too are moved to send a letter:

The Israeli government is now preparing to demolish the two “unrecognized” Negev Bedouin villages of Um al-Hiran and Atir, and to forcibly resettle their 1,200 inhabitants, who are non-Jewish citizens of Israel, to the overcrowded township of Hura. The government plans to build a Jewish community, to be called Hiran, on the rubble of the homes of their fellow citizens in the Bedouin village of Um al-Hiran. On Aug. 23, bulldozers began the work. Nearby, the government plans to expand the Yatir forest to overrun the Bedouin village of Atir.

On Nov. 22, 2015, the Israeli government approved the establishment of five more new Jewish communities in the Negev, two of which will be built where Bedouin villages already exist.  This decision means that many thousands of Israeli Bedouin citizens will be forced from their homes into impoverished urban townships. The new Jewish community of Daya will be built on the ruins of the unrecognized Bedouin village of Katamat, which is home to 1,500 people, while the new Jewish community of Neve Gurion will be built on part of the land of Beer Hadaj, a recognized Bedouin village with approximately 6,000 residents.

Can you join me and send our letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivllin? Tell them not to build Jewish communities in Israel on the rubble of Negev Bedouin villages.

Click here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/prime-minister-netanyahu-dont-build-jewish-communities-on-the-rubble-of-bedouin-villages?source=email&

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Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016: Cookbooks on the backburner

When I wrote on the weekend about one of my mom’s favourite cookbooks, I was reminded of two cookbook projects that have been gathering dust in the back corridors of my mind. One I call “The Abayudaya Jewish Cookbook” and the other “The Torah Cookbook”.

The Abayudaya are the Jews of Uganda, where I lived 2009-2010. I figured that they are among the most unique Jewish communities in the world, and that people in the developed world might be interested in their food. In the summer of 2009 I created recipe worksheets for a kind of adult literacy project.

I had the worksheets and measuring spoons and cups distributed to women in the several villages in eastern Uganda where the Abayudaya live and asked them to write out a favourite recipe while carefully measuring the ingredients. Then I travelled to the villages and asked the women to cook their recipes, while I monitored the ingredients and took photos. Then I sampled what they cooked and interviewed them about their lives.

When I moved to the capital, Kampala, I set up a kitchen with a modern propane stove and began testing the recipes. It was quickly obvious how boring the food can be, not because of Ugandans’ poverty of imagination, but simply because of their poverty. Their main dishes are very bland staples that fill bellies at minimum cost. Like posho – corn meal boiled into a stiff porridge. Or matooke, which is unripe plantain bananas steamed and mashed.

What often saves these dishes is the addition of cooked fresh beans, Uganda’s most common protein, with some sauce. Or sometimes fish and very rarely meat. In the photo above, Shoshannah Nambi displays beans she has prepared as part of the cookbook project. In the photo below she works on her recipe worksheet. My plan was to make the cookbook a fundraiser for the women, who I already support by selling their crafts.

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The idea for “The Torah Cookbook” came one week when I cooked a red lentil soup in my Vancouver kitchen. I discovered the Torah portion for that week was about Jacob trading a bowl of red lentil pottage to his brother Esau in exchange for his birthright as the eldest son.

I’ve always struggled to find meaning in the Hebrew Bible and thought about creating a cookbook with recipes inspired by the 52 portions of the week throughout the year. Some recipes would be literal like the red lentils, but others might evoke a theme like celebration.

I’ve registered the domain torahcookbook.com but haven’t gone any further. Maybe after “Being 69” becomes a book, I can bring these cookbooks off the backburner and into reality.

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Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016: Some find love, some don’t

Tonight my buddy and I saw the excellent British film “The Lady in the Van.” It’s based on the memoir of writer Alan Bennett, played by Alex Jennings, and his awkward but compassionate relationship with a homeless woman, Miss Shepherd, played by Maggie Smith, who parks her derelict van in his driveway for 15 years.

I identified a lot with Bennett, who keeps a notebook of everyday life much like I keep this blog. He mounts a one-man show in London’s West End that exploits his relationship with his mother. “Will you write about me?” Miss Shepherd asks. “You use your mother . . . me next, I suppose.”

I plead guilty to also using people as a writer. We can be such sluts. As a reporter, I was my source or interview subject’s best friend until I got my story, and then it was goodbye and off in search of the next story. I felt a bit of déjà vu on Sunday, when I participated in the protest against rampant home demolitions to some extent because I wanted a good photo and content for that day’s blog post.

One of the subplots of the movie is Bennett’s love life. Younger men make brief appearances in his home, some scurrying away because of Miss Shepherd’s odorous presence in the front yard. In the end, though, he appears to find a loving partnership.

After the movie, my buddy and I discussed our dating misadventures over coffee. I had a Tinder date on Sunday with a woman whose taste for luxury and the lack of connection made the first date the last. He’s had some Plenty of Fish dates with an attractive woman whose lifestyle is challenging his capacity for compromise – she eats meat three meals a day, wears clothes festooned with feathers and lets her dog climb over everything in his neat home. He asked my advice and all I could say was to examine his priorities and decide what means the most to him.

Last month another friend sought my advice about using JDate, the Jewish dating site. Earlier this evening he called to relate that only one woman’s profile had interested him, but he had been loathe to pay to subscribe. Then he discovered she had cleverly written an acrostic in her profile that spelled out the address of her blog. He contacted her through the blog and they hit it off immediately. I’m very happy for him. Damn it. I’ve been on JDate on and off for years with no such luck.

Time is rapidly running out to meet someone special by Valentine’s Day, a day when I always dread being alone.

 

 

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Monday, Feb. 8, 2016: My point of view

This evening, I was once again drawn to my balcony camera in hand to capture another beautiful sunset overlooking Georgia Strait and Vancouver Island. When I returned from Uganda in 2010, I walked every street in my sister’s neighbourhood, Kerrisdale, looking for a place to call home. The moment I walked into this apartment and beheld the sweeping southwest views I knew I’d found it.

The view looked something like this that clear, summer day.

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It’s very nourishing to look out the windows at the trees, water and islands beyond. The space outside creates space inside. When I’m working at the computer on my treadmill desk, I gaze out for inspiration. Ever since I moved in, I’ve taken photos from the balcony, almost always of sunsets.

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I’ve always deeply appreciated a view. And I realize that this comes from a very privileged vantage point, from a place of comfort and security that billions on the planet can only dream of.

When I lived on Quadra Island, my place had three-quarters of a mile of oceanfront to inhale every morning. When we built our home in Point Grey, we had a 180-degree view of the water and the mountains. Last night, I was googling and discovered this City of Vancouver archival photo taken by H.L. Corey from our Point Grey address at 5th and Trimble in the 1940s.

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By the end of this month, I’ll be moving out of this apartment and into Vancouver Cohousing. I’ve always said that if I can’t have a view, I’d like to live in a courtyard, which is what I’ll have in the new place. As well, only a few feet from my unit’s front door is a pretty decent mountain view that looks like this on a very good day.

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Views are everywhere. Today when I left a lovely Vancouver Cohousing brunch hosted by one of our members in the Science World area, I saw this juxtaposition of natural and manmade wonders.

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Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016: Poster child for greed

I joined a demonstration this afternoon at a 20-year-old Vancouver mansion assessed at $7.44 million that is slated for demolition. A corner property in the tony South Granville neighbourhood a few blocks from Shaughnessy, it underwent $350,000 in renovations just three years ago.

But the new owner who bought it in 2013 has applied to the City to tear it down and build a new house. Some may say that’s perfectly within a property owner’s rights. Who are we to complain? It’s not just this one house, this poster child for greed. There’s an epidemic of demolitions destroying homes for bigger ones, sending mountains of debris to landfill and helping make Vancouver even more unaffordable. That’s why people are protesting.

In its coverage of today’s demonstration, The Vancouver Sun reported that as of last year “almost 8,700 buildings were demolished in Vancouver since 2005 and that houses were still being torn down almost daily.”

I was alerted to the protest by my friend Carolyn through Facebook. I saw her there as well as other friends Barbara and David. Barbara said she fears that if the building where she rents is sold, she’ll be priced out of the city.

One of the complaints against demolitions is that gardens, mature trees and perfectly good building materials – often old-growth wood in older homes – are all ripped up and sent to the chipper.

I should disclose that as a member of Vancouver Cohousing, we demolished three single-family homes on the double-deep lots we bought on East 33rd Avenue. But we arranged for reusable building materials to be stripped from the homes before the bulldozers arrived. And we have built 31 homes where 48 adults and 18 children will live in a collaborative, more sustainable lifestyle.

Let me further disclose that in the mid-1980s, I helped subdivide a 66-foot lot in Point Grey, demolish the older Cape Cod-style house on the property and build my family home on my half of the land.

Today I feel aligned with this citizens’ movement to bring some sanity to what’s happening with housing in Vancouver. When Vancouver Green Counc. Adriane Carr spoke to the crowd today, she relayed an idea she’d heard: make the people applying for demolition pay a surcharge equal to value of the home they’re destroying.

 

 

 

 

 

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Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016: Come on over

Friday night was a delicious and friendly adventure called Come On Over. It’s a fundraising initiative of my spiritual community, Or Shalom, where 16 households host and prepare sumptuous shared meals under the banner of “Building community one dinner at a time.”

The pitch: “Why go out to a restaurant when you can donate the equivalent amount to Or Shalom and enjoy a delicious meal provided by your hosts in the company of other members of our community?”

Our gracious hosts were Patricia and Martin, on the right in the photo above, who have a gorgeous house in the City Hall area. My fellow guests were, from left, Mark, Maurice, Sue, Linda and Aur – we each paid $75, some of which will count towards a tax credit.

Patricia described the meal in advance: “We’d like to do a sort of Yucatan-style dinner with grilled fish, sweet potatoes, guacamole, a zucchini-lime saute and an almond cake for dessert.” Plus she made mango coconut ice cream.

After blessings for the Shabbat candles, wine and challah, we sat down to the scrumptious feast. Martin had barbecued red snapper to perfection with a tasty sauce. Green and red salsas added zip. Everything was divine.

In the conversation, Maurice reminded me that we’re almost birthday twins. The fellow Club 69 member was born six days earlier on Dec. 24, 1946. Maurice suggested we do something to celebrate our 70th. I’ve been thinking it over and it turns out that Dec. 24 this year is on Shabbat, so we could co-sponsor the kiddush lunch. And then that evening we could have a traditional Jewish Christmas Eve – Chinese food and a movie – and extend it into party with live music. How about a Charlie Chaplin silent comedy with musical accompaniment like the old, old days. Maybe at Vancouver Cohousing in the common house.

Some weeks ago I received an email from Linda, who had been going through some of her books and came across an edition of The Settlement Cook Book from the 1940s. First published in 1901, it reflected the food of “the Ghetto,” an impoverished Milwaukee neighbourhood of poor, newly arrived Russian, Polish and Romanian Jewish immigrants. Inside Linda found a page from The Province newspaper with a 1993 feature about the book and a short sidebar I had written:

The Settlement Cook Book is the kind of treasure that gets passed down through the generations. The 1941 edition was a favourite of my mother, Molly Mallin of Burnaby. And when she died in 1971, it was handed down to my sister Joan.

Today the book is a bit dog-eared, several pages are loose and the cover is held together with tape, but it still gets used in Joan’s Vancouver kitchen.

“I use it now for making pancakes and baking powder biscuits,” she says. “Its main value is that it was hers.”

Linda doesn’t recall when she acquired the book and there’s nothing inside indicating who had owned it before. Whoever that was had it for a long time because there are other clippings from 1947 and 2000. I’ll take it over to Joan’s on Sunday for a little surprise show and tell.

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Friday, Feb. 5, 2016: The freelancing world, Part 2

During my 27 years at The Province, I often sold stories to the paper about adventurous vacations. One was a trip to Beijing four months after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. On the pretence that I was picking up laundry left behind by a Canadian student who had fled the country in the crisis, I gained entry to Beijing University, a major centre of the protest movement. I interviewed students who had witnessed the violence and wrote a five-part series when I got back to Vancouver.

After early retirement that I called “Freedom 59”, I embarked on a couple years of international travel writing that took me to East Africa, China, Japan, Ukraine, Peru, Mexico and the Bahamas.

The photo above was taken on Grand Bahama Island with the Underwater Explorers Society. Sharing a hug with a dolphin was joyous. It also felt good knowing the dolphins had weekly opportunities to swim freely in open waters and voluntarily returned.

Another joy was taking part in the Klezmer Heritage Cruise with about 160 others, mainly Canadian Jews, on a river boat down the Dnieper from Kiev to the Crimea and Odessa. We had an international band of klezmer musicians on board who joined with local musicians to play concerts at every port of call. With a close family member, I visited the village of Aleksievka, where my mother’s father was born, and Malin, where my father’s family may have got the name Malinsky, shortened to Mallin in Canada. I sold that story to The Province and a series to The Jewish Independent.

At the tail end of a press trip to northern Peru, I grabbed a couple days to see one of the wonders of the world, the ancient Incan city of Machu Picchu. Another press trip took me to the Yucatan in Mexico where I wrote about the Sacred Mayan Journey with other travel writers, including Kristy Stratton-Tolley, who I’m very happy to see is following my blog with great encouragement. Press trips are where a government tourism agency or private travel operator invites writers to participate in a all-expenses-paid tour with the stipulation that you write a story that gets published. That kind of travel is usually in a five-star bubble and over and done very quickly.

Wanting a deeper experience is partially what took me to Uganda in 2009-10 to live with the Abayudaya Jews. They are very poor, but when they heard that Ugandans in the country’s northeast were suffering famine, they gathered enough food to fill a pickup truck. I travelled with them and the Ugandan Red Cross to a remote village where they distributed food to the elderly and the sick. I chronicled that experience in a story for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that was widely published.

More recently I’ve written articles for Business in Vancouver, but mostly focus now on editing contracts with a consultancy in Ottawa and a provincial agency in Toronto. Not so adventurous, but I can do the work in my boxer shorts and T-shirt, sipping coffee on my treadmill desk.

 

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Home-cooked lunch with Lev Markovich, whose wife is a Malinskaya, in the town of Malin in Ukraine. We toasted with homemade potato vodka.

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The thrill of reaching the Incan city of Machu Picchu high in the Andes.

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Abayudaya delivering food aid in the famine-stricken northeast of Uganda.

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Approaching sunset over the Nile River at Bor in South Sudan.

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016: The freelancing world

Tonight I worked on creating a prototype of a digital newsletter with a new app for a client, part of the freelancing I still do in retirement. Since I was a teenager, I’ve found ways to supplement my income and often add adventure to my life.

Early on at 19, after writing a 1966 feature on surfing at Long Beach on Vancouver Island for The Vancouver Sun, I got a gig as the surfing writer for a water sports magazine under the byline Waimea Jones. Hmm, kinda sounds like Indiana Jones.

The ’60s were the years I also freelanced as a writer and photographer for the Georgia Straight under the byline Sheikh Istanli, covering political protests and demonstrations, while I kept my day job at the Sun. I loved the darkroom in my tiny bathroom where I developed film and printed photos.

In Beirut in 1971, I wrote for The San Francisco Chronicle and Copley News Services. While there was no open warfare then, rival militias were shooting up each other’s cafes, and the Palestine Liberation Organization set up shop near where Betsy and I lived. A fearful visit to that PLO office convinced me I wasn’t cut out to be a war correspondent.

I did some leg work for the Middle East correspondent for The Daily Mail, a London tabloid. He sent me out to Beirut harbour to interview a British seaman stuck on board a ship being held over some issues. The sailor said life was pretty good, with food brought from the city as well as frequent movies. When I reported that to the correspondent, he said it wasn’t dramatic enough, and proceeded to concoct a story about the seaman’s outrageous treatment.

For a while when I lived on Quadra Island in 1972-73, I had a full-time job as the Campbell River reporter for tiny CHQB Radio. It was great fun to report stories on the side to the big radio station, CKNW, in Vancouver. My biggest freelance coup from there was to sell a story to the New York Post about the reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes being holed up at the Bayshore Inn in Vancouver as if I was on the spot instead of a ferry ride and more than 100 miles away.

In the mid-’70s, I was living in Toronto, and before I got a job as a copy editor at The Toronto Star, I did some freelancing. In the photo below, I think I was writing a radio play called “Wanopa” for which I received $50.

I was hired by The Province daily newspaper in Vancouver in 1979. Ten years later, I took a leave of absence and our family went to live in Tokyo where I worked for a U.S. financial news service. In the photo at the top, I was taking notes for a weekly column for The Province called “Japan Journal,” which was a great way to explore the country and its people.

Enough for today. More tomorrow.

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Portrait of a young man as a freelance writer. Toronto, circa 1975.

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