Being 69 – Saturday, May 21, 2016: Embracing the darkness

I spent a beautiful evening singing with my old friend Anand David. He hosts Singing Buddha Satsang and Meditation, at Empower Health on Commercial Drive. Anand was a frequent musical guest at my evenings of Hebrew chant a decade ago before we both left Vancouver for a while – him to California and me to Uganda.

Anand calls his events a space for sound wisdom. They’re on Saturdays evenings at 7, coming up on June 4 and 18. This evening he was accompanied by Lisa on guitar, and he invited me to play his frame drum. We sang his own wonderful chants in English as well as more classical Sanskrit kirtan.

I was most affected by this chant of Anand’s:

When the darkness surrounds you,
when the darkness enfolds you,
dream, feel, believe

Anand encouraged us to embrace the darkness and see it as an opportunity for deep learning about the self. That’s a good lesson for me. I’ve been stuck in “light is good, dark is bad.”

Anand also spoke about the current full moon and Buddha’s birthday, which is today in the Tibetan tradition. That reminded me of my own brushes with Buddhism, although I’ve never considered myself a Jewish Buddhist, which has several abbreviated forms, such as Jewbu, Jewboo, Jubu and Buju.

Years ago I spent long enough in a Soto Zen monastery on the Japanese island of Shikoku called Niihama no Zuioji to come out of it with hemorrhoids from straining in a difficult seating position on the floor called seiza. I also read “The Jew in the Lotus”, Rodger Kamenetz’s excellent account of the 1990 encounter between the Dalai Lama and a group of American rabbis – including Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi – in Dharamsala to discuss “the secret of Jewish spiritual survival in exile.”

I continue to treasure the papier maché Buddha based on “The Jew in the Lotus” that a close family member made in high school. On the back it features the Shema – the central statement in Judaism that affirms the oneness of the Divine – surrounding a lotus blossom. The Buddha sits inside a Mogen David (Star of David) designed to look like barbed wire.






Being 69 – Friday, May 20, 2016: Living the dream

I was asked to write about Vancouver Cohousing both for the KCC Neighbour newspaper and for Hadani Ditmars, who is presenting Vancouverism Then and Now: Designing New Communities, part of the London Festival of Architecture. What follows also serves as my latest blog post. (Photo by Cam Dore)

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Vancouver Cohousing is a unique and exciting new addition to Kensington-Cedar Cottage. Cohousing is a style of community living developed in Denmark in which residents own their own homes and also share considerable common space and resources.

The 52 adults and 21 children – and one on the way – living here are feeling more and more settled in as we set up our new homes, plant our gardens and share common meals. We are living the dream of a more collaborative, sustainable and close-knit community lifestyle.

We moved into our 31-unit project – the first in the City of Vancouver – at the end of February, four years after the first public meeting was held at the WISE Hall. That year we bought three double-deep lots on East 33rd Ave. between Argyle and Commercial Streets. In March 2013, we received approval from City Council to rezone from single family to comprehensive development. In July 2014, we broke ground for construction.

We were strangers when we began but we have become good friends over the years of development and good neighbours since we moved in. We have strata title to our homes. Ranging in size from studios to a four-bedroom, all the homes are equipped with kitchens, bathrooms, etc., but as well we share a lot, such as camping gear, childcare, vacuum cleaners and a shared car.

The heart of the community is the 6,500 sq. ft. common house where we serve three common dinners a week plus a weekend brunch. No one has to eat those meals but we’re all on cooking and kitchen cleaning teams. The common house includes a lounge, laundry room, craft room, kids’ playroom, studio where yoga classes are held, shared office, two guest rooms, workshop and teen room. We do the maintenance.

The central artery is the courtyard, where we hang out together. All the kitchens on that level face into the courtyard to promote more social contact. It’s also where the children ride their scooters. Cohousing is a kids’ paradise where they can run out their front door and play with their friends.

Sustainability is key. Ninety solar panels generate electricity. The parkade has two electric cars with charging stations. We collect rain water for our gardens, our landscaping is largely edible and we’re very conscientious recyclers.

We recently hosted more than 40 of our immediate neighbours to a block party. We’ve just received a Neighbourhood Small Grant from the City and intend to host another event in the summer. We are very happy to be here.


Monday, May 16, 2016: The healing power of music

It was a fantastic evening of world music at the Epiphany Chapel at UBC as part of the “Encountering the Other” conference. First there was Sulam’s diverse Jewish music, then a magical fusion of Indian and Japanese music, and finally four amazing musicians bringing the energy and richness of Arabic music.
Music can be so good for the soul. I could feel my spirit rising through the evening, giving me strength for sending healing energy tomorrow (Tuesday) to a regular participant at Chanting & Chocolate who is facing surgery to remove a large carcinoma from her leg. It’s slated for around 3pm PDT, when I’m planning to chant “Oh Wondrous Healer” for Rachel Devorah bat Esther ve-Aryeh. Wherever you are, please join me in chanting, add your prayers or simply offer positive thoughts for successful surgery.
Every group had percussion, strings and wind instruments but what amazing variety and talent. Sulam (top photo) was Wendy Rubin, Elana Brief, Charles Kaplan, Laura Duhan Kaplan and Martin Gotfrit. The Indian-Japanese fusion was Alcvin Ryuzin Ramos on the shakuhachi flute, Amarjeet Singh on tabla and Mohamed Assani on sitar. Emad Armoush, Gord Grdina, Radoie Panici and Kenton Loewen held the audience spellbound with their set of Arabic songs.

Sunday, May 15, 2016: Encountering the other

I just realized I missed an address this evening by a remarkable man of peace, Dr. Marc Gopin, who was speaking at the University of B.C.’s Vancouver School of Theology (VST) at a conference called “Encountering the Other”. As director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, he speaks widely and has trained thousands of people worldwide in and out of conflict zones in peacebuilding strategies for complex conflicts.


Yesterday, Gopin spoke at my synagogue, Or Shalom, about “Empathy with the stranger – why is it the most frequently repeated law in the Torah?” An ordained rabbi, he said the commandment to “love the stranger as yourself” appears more than 30 times in Torah, the Hebrew Bible. We are reminded not to forget that we were strangers in the land of Egypt. And he said you can’t really love the stranger until you love yourself.

The inter-religious studies conference at UBC is organized by my dear friend Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan, Or Shalom’s former rabbi and currently VST director of Inter-religious Studies and professor of Jewish Studies.

There is a free event tomorrow (Monday) evening in the Epiphany Chapel that I definitely will not miss. First at 7, is a Fossil-Free Faith Youth Panel, followed at 8:15 by a concert with Jewish world music band Sulam (which includes members of the Chanting & Chocolate band) plus Indian-Japanese fusion and Arabic music.




Saturday, May 14, 2016: Shovelling it

I love how my cohousing community works together, even when it comes to shovelling horse manure. When I’m feeling depressed, I tend to hunker down at home, but this afternoon I emerged to pitch in with our ambitious landscaping.

Colin and Wally picked up a couple truckloads of well-aged manure mixed with sawdust and straw from a Southlands (South Vancouver) horse farmer. I joined other volunteers shovelling it onto tarps in the back lane and then wheelbarrowing it to our raised beds where we’re growing fruit and ornamental trees, vegetables and flowers.

With guidance from Colin and Donnie, I helped spread the manure in the garden beds. The idea is to enrich the soil and also add a top layer of mulch to try to retain moisture during these increasingly warm days and the prospect of a long, hot summer. The front lawn is already suffering from the heat.

With water restrictions in Vancouver beginning tomorrow (Sunday), we’ve already set up rain barrels purchased from the city to collect rain water for the gardens. During this first year of our garden the plants are pretty vulnerable getting established. Keeping them adequately watered will help a lot.

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Also today, we celebrated two birthdays – Jude’s third and Josh’s 41st. There was an abundance of cake. One highlight of Jude’s was a parade of decorated scooters and bikes down the courtyard.


The birthday parade heads down the courtyard toward the common house. We’re serious about kids wearing helmets.


Jude blows out the candle on his birthday cake flanked by his mom Zoe and brother Marley.

Friday, May 13, 2016: Shabbat light

As the Shabbat candles neared their last stand, I reflected on a lovely Erev Shabbat. It looked like there would be six of us for Shabbat dinner, but there was one no-show and two surprise guests – Inessa and Stav – who RSVP’d yesterday Thursday night through the Jews in Vancouver Facebook group but I didn’t see it. I’ll have to check my notifications.

So, we were seven; a little tight but doable in my space. A larger group would be better in the common house Great Room. I had booked the room but let it go last night when the numbers looked relatively small.

Next month it will be three years since I began offering 2nd Friday Shabbat potluck dinners. I had spent too many Friday nights alone, and this way I have company at least once a month. Shabbat – from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown – is my favourite Jewish holiday, an opportunity for a spiritual retreat every week. It’s so much more fun to bring it in with other people.

I never tell people what to bring for the potluck and it always works out. Tonight we had a quinoa salad, a spinach and mandarin orange salad, asparagus, a raw veggie tray, leftovers from last night’s lentils with broiled eggplant, and a stir fry with shiitake mushrooms fresh out of my wok.

I got to catch up a little with Inessa, who I hadn’t seen in about 20 years, and begin to get to know Stav. After dinner, I gave them, chanting regular José, and Nini, my old neighbour from Pennyfarthing Drive, a tour of Vancouver Cohousing. To that point, Inessa couldn’t see the difference between a regular condo and cohousing. Once she saw our common spaces and learn how much we collaborate and participate, she got it.

Reamick and Tom, who have already seen our place, stayed behind during the tour, and when we got back the dishwasher had been filled up – thank you! We ended the evening making a circle and singing several chants. Just beautiful.



Thursday, May 12, 2016: Cooking with gas

It’s taken me three weeks to get back on track with my blog. Day after day I’ve let it go. That old devil procrastination and a bit of feeling down. But I really do want to create a book out of this year of “Being 69” diary posts. No content, no book.

Today I was excited to take my turn cooking for the Vancouver Cohousing community. We have four common meals a week – three weekday dinners and a weekend brunch. Every month or so we’re on a team to shop, chop, cook and serve a meal.

This time I was teamed with Vesanto, Paddy and Ben. Vesanto, a well-known author of vegan cookbooks, suggested a menu of fish-free filets, yam fries and salad. Simple enough, but I wasn’t sure how many people would want to make faux fish the main part of their meal.

So I suggested an additional dish from the cookbook I’ve been exploring, Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. It’s called Lentils With Broiled Eggplant, something I’ve never cooked before. I was motivated because I love eggplant, the book described the recipe as an excellent weekday main dish, and I wanted to offer a gourmet creation.

It’s quite a challenge to take a recipe serving four and make 10 times as much for our hungry crowd. Chopping carrots, celery and grape tomatoes for about 40 people seemed to take forever. Same with scooping out 14 hot and juicy eggplants after the fun of roasting them on the barbecue.

Rising to the challenge elevated my mood. I’ve been grieving the loss of my ocean-view Kerrisdale apartment after finally giving notice at the end of April. And it’s depressing to still be single 23 years after the divorce despite some meaningful relationships along the way.

I enjoyed working with my cohousing neighbours as we raced to get dinner on eight tables by 6. Once the meal is served, the cooking team often has something to say. I offered a reading from Bless This Food, a book (there’s an app too) about ancient and contemporary graces from around the world. This one was by Chief Dan George (1899-1981), a gifted actor, writer and chief of the Coast Salish nation, who I had the privilege of interviewing for The Vancouver Sun in the late 1960s.

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The strength of the fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
and the life that never goes away,
they speak to me.

And my heart soars