Being 70 – Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016: I don’t feel it, but 70 sounds old

This is blazing candles night, the last night of Hanukkah, when we light up the whole menorah. It’s the cusp of 2017 with the New Year’s Eve party in the Common House beckoning, and my second day as a 70-year-old.

Seventy. It certainly sounds old. Elderly. As a young reporter, I referred to people in their 70s as elderly; probably people in their 60s too. One friend has welcomed me to my eighth decade. Yuck. Other friends say 70 is the new 50.

Maybe. When I turned 61 I wrote it down on a sheet of paper, turned it upside down and said, “The new 19!” Within a month I was diagnosed with cataracts. So not 19 again.

We’ll see how this new phase of life unfolds. You may see “Being 70” posts from time to time. I will be seeking advice about whether I can take the more than 110 “Being 69” posts of the past year, flesh them out with reflections and make a book that would be more than a vanity project.

After having designed and proofread books, and written a small chapter of another, I do want to have my name on the cover of a book. I was inspired by Globe & Mail writer Ian Brown who kept a diary of the year he was 60 and turned it into a popular memoir, Sixty. But he’s such a good writer – funny, introspective and absorbing.

I’m grateful that some people have enjoyed my blog posts. But the posts were seldom shared or stimulated discussions. I was thinking that writing as a 1946 baby I might be able to offer some insights to the millions of Baby Boomers whose 70th birthday is still distant.

Anyway, I had a fantastic party to mark my Big Seven-Oh. Upwards of 60 people joined me in the Common House at Vancouver Cohousing for an evening of great food, warm company, and dancing to the fabulous music of a mini version of the Jewish World Music group Sulam – Wendy Rubin, Laura Duhan Kaplan, Charles Kaplan, Martin Gotfrit and Joe Markovitch – with fellow cohouser Wally Watson, drummer for the legendary Vancouver band Doug and the Slugs, sitting in with my djembe.

I led a singalong of a couple of my favourite tunes, “I Shall Be Released” and “Forever Young,” both written by Bob Dylan. And I faced a creative challenge, publicly singing a most favourite but musically challenging song, “Whispering Pines,” written by Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel of The Band, my all-time favourite group. It’s quite lonely and desolate, but beautiful too.

For several days I practised with another fellow cohouser, Ian Beaty, who played piano for me. And when I sang it at the party, it went well. Not exactly jumping out of an airplane at 70, but still a challenge met.

Fellow cohouser Cam Dore shot stills and video at the party and made a lovely 10-minute video:

Being 69 – Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2016: Not everyone makes it this far

On Friday, insh’Allah, I’ll be turning 70. I recently learned that Patti Smith, the American singer-songwriter, poet, visual artist and activist who performed at the Nobel Prize ceremony for Bob Dylan, was born on the very same day in 1946.

But it seems like every day, the news reports the death of someone who hasn’t made it this far. Carrie Fisher has just died at 60, an icon for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies. David Bowie and Alan Thicke came close at 69, but George Michael was only 53.

Not so well-known was David J. Steiner, a Chicago documentary filmmaker, who was killed Monday at 51 in a mini-bus crash on his way to a Hanukkah celebration in the Ugandan village where I used to live.

Some significant Canadians died this year after living into their 80s, such as Leonard Cohen at 82 and “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe at 88.

Approaching a milestone and contemplating mortality makes me think of my own father, Hyman, who made it to 85, while my mother, Molly, died at only 50.

I am determined to stay as healthy as I can, to be grateful for every breath I’m given and be an active zaida – Yiddish for grandfather – come this spring. I can hardly wait for this precious and exciting stage of life.



Being 69 – Monday, Dec. 26, 2016: First time in almost 40 years

When I lit my first candle after sundown on Saturday, it was the first time since 1978 that Christmas Eve and the beginning of Hanukkah coincided. In fact, only the third time since 1872. Following Jewish custom to share the light, I placed the menorah in my window at Vancouver Cohousing while my neighbour’s Christmas lights reflected off the glass.

The coincidence this year – the Jewish calendar is lunar and events are at different dates on the more common calendar every year – has me reflecting on my relationship with Christmas and Hanukkah. As an introvert, it’s easy for me to feel like an outsider, and that feeling is deeper at this time of year when the dominant culture is saturated with Yuletide shopping, music and celebrations.

I grew up in a secular Jewish family in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. As far as we knew, we were maybe the only Jewish household around. We weren’t religious, but we weren’t assimilated either. We never celebrated Christmas, although I did love to go carolling.

We lit Hanukkah candles, ate my mother’s yummy latkes and exchanged gifts on the first night. It was a sore point for me that with my birthday on Dec. 30, I was often told that “this will do for Hanukkah and your birthday.” That was usually for bigger gifts, like the metallic red bike I received one year. Not so much for new pyjamas.

Hanukkah is a minor holiday – not appearing at all in the Bible – but has a much higher profile because it comes around the time of Christmas. And Jewish kids want presents too. By the time I became a father in 1983, it was customary to give kids a gift every night for the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Over the years I’ve continued to light Hanukkah candles and my offspring in the nation’s capital does too. I have no hesitation to place the lit menorah in the window, but that’s not taken for granted everywhere. An American writer, Edmon J. Rodman, writes in the Jewish Telegraphic agency website: “. . . in the uncertain light of political change in our country, I was worried about what was emerging from the shadows: anti-Semitic iconography online, attacks on Jewish journalists, the re-emergence of Jewish conspiracy stories, Jewish college students being confronted with swastikas. Was this a wise time to let our light shine?”

And in Europe, some public events have been cancelled in the light of terror attacks. Seems like an odd turn of phrase – in the light – in this context. Cnaan Liphshiz writes in the Times of Israel about candle lighting in Europe this year.