Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Sunday 27 October 2013

Who Serves Whom

One of the most important findings of the Pew Report on Jewish identity was that many, if not most, non-religious younger Jews are turning away from Judaism because they don't find it relevant to them.  The idea of being Jewish as an obligation simply doesn't exist in their personal frames of reference and as a result they treat being Jewish as one option among many for meeting their personal and spiritual needs.    As Rav Yonatan Rosenblum eloquently notes in a recent essay:
THE HIGH INTERMARRIAGE RATE should occasion no surprise. "Jewish" has long since ceased to be a primary, or even tertiary, identity for most American Jews. Those things that most American Jews associate with Jewish identity – a sense of humor, a taste for certain foods, commitment to social justice, Holocaust remembrance – are by no means exclusive to Jews. If politics or a sense of humor or taste in movies are primary to one's self-identity, then one is likely to choose one's spouse on the basis of those things, not religion.
Nor is it any surprise that "Jewish" should rank so low on the totem pole of self-identification. For the one message that most American Jews have never heard is: Judaism is unique; Judaism has a message that differs from the prevailing zeitgeist. Rather they have been told that Judaism is trivial, and its rituals and proscriptions outdated and primitive.
Every time, "Jewish" or "marriage" are redefined to "keep the kids within the fold" or to maintain the demographic numbers, the message is conveyed that Judaism is meaningless and exists only for its own self-perpetuation. Judaism, our young understand, makes no demands and will accommodate them however far afield they travel.
AMERICAN JEWISH LEADERS, including a large swath of the clergy, have not followed Wertheimer's minimum prescription for the preservation of American Jewry as a distinct community: to address directly about where, how, and why Judaism dissents from the universalistic ethic of the culture at large, by "speaking on behalf of the distinctive commandments, beliefs and values for the sake of which Jews over the millennia . . . have willingly and gratefully set themselves apart."
Years ago I went to a student forum at the local university where three local rabbis were asked to speak.  The Reform rabbi waxed on about how his daughter lived her Jewish values by volunteering at the local food bank and homeless shelter.  Shabbos was a nice idea, of course, but she felt it was more important to express her Jewishness by spending Saturday afternoons helping the homeless.  I then asked what I thought was the obvious challenge: when she meets someone non-Jewish who has exactly the same values as her what will keep her in the fold?  I saw this myself with an old friend who was raising in the Conservative system through school, camps and youth groups.  She was a big leftist social justice type and ultimately met a non-Jewish guy who shared her values.  She saw no trouble with marrying him because he was exactly the kind of guy she was looking for and his not being Jewish didn't factor into it.
Much of the fault for this can be laid squarely in the Orthodox community.  Our public obsessions with those things that are not relevant to non-religious folks like kashrus, Shabbos and taharas mishpacha give the impression that Judaism is all about personal ritual with no connection to societal concerns.  The endless parade of Orthodox Jews in the headlines for various crimes along with the public disheveled appearance of many Orthodox neighbourhoods only helps to make the non-religious feel like there is nothing in true Judaism that is of relevance to the 21st century liberal.
All this also brings to mine the old JFK quote (which wasn't his, by the way): "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.The other factor that works against Judaism and spring from this quote is bigger than that.  Our civilization is one in which "duty" is a dirty word to be used on other people, not on oneself.  The combination of increasing convenience through technology and rising entitlements from oversized government has created a society of folks who are interested in the opposite of JFK's great quote.  Young Jews, it would seem, want their local synagogue/temple to do something to entertain them as opposed to seeing it as a place to congregate out of obligation to the community.  They look at Judaism and ask "What's in it for me?" instead of "How can I contribute to Judaism"?
Rav Rosenblum's article brings an example of a community which has successfully engaged in efforts to change the slide away from Judaism but, as he notes, the success of the small and homogenous South African community cannot be duplicated in North America for various reasons.  This does not mean that the underlying principle, presenting Judaism as a faith with distinct values, is a wash.
What is needed, however, is leadership on both the Torah observant and non-religious sides of the divide to change their presentations.  Non-religious leaders are pandering to the secular liberals in their congregations in increasing radical ways but are not gaining any ground.  As the kids in my childhood synagogue once told the rabbi when he asked them why they didn't come out for youth activities, "the non-Jewish people have lots better parties and lots more fun".  The Conservatives seem to have shrunk after every step they take away from Torah observance in order to accommodate secular liberals.  The Reform have reached the point where a good number of those who even participate minimally in the movement aren't even really Jewish.  
On the Orthodox side there has to be a step away from the obsession with the minutiae of ritual.  We have to ask ourselves a simple question: are non-black stockings on a woman worse than theft and pedophiles?  How can we penetrate the klipah of selfishness our culture has wrapped our non-Jewish brethren in if we don't show them that Judaism does speak to their values but only as a whole system instead of bits and parts?
On the non-religious side there has to be a recognition that only Jewish unique values make one's actions Jewish.  Helping out at the local shelter because that's what makes you feel Jewish isn't authentic.  Helping out because the Torah obliges us to clothe the poor and shelter the homeless and by doing so we are connecting to God, that's authentic.  And building that connection to God comes with personal and ritual obligations.  At some point Reformative clergy have to swallow a bitter pill and say "Look, if you want to be a good Jew you also have to do the following..."  Intermarriage will only drop when the non-Orthodox Jew decides to marry another Jew not because of "Well, I don't want to marry a non-Jew" but because only another Jew can match their values.
The Torah and Talmud have no shortage of exhortations on how to help the poor and enact social justice.  Instead of figuring out new ways to make keeping kosher more difficult we should be figuring out how to be machmir on helping the homeless.  Instead of worrying about whether or not women and men can sit in sight of one another on a public bus we should be stocking our local food banks, both kosher and not.  Somewhere along the way the books of Yishiyahu, Yirmiyahu and Yechezkel, uncensored, must make their way back into our curriculum.
We observant Jews have as much an obligation to save our non-religious brethren from assimilated obscurity but we have to change ourselves as well in order to do that.

Thursday 24 October 2013

The Friendly Face of Anti-Semitism

One of the things I like to do in my family practice is take in students.  One of the fun things about having new students is hearing about what's going on at the local medical school, any changes in the curriculum and the initiatives the school is launching.
Sometimes I also get to hear about class politics. A few years ago I had a couple of Jewish students who told me about one of their classmates, a very politically active fellow who was constantly bombarding their student message board with announcements about protests and demonstrations he thought his fellow students should get involved in.  He was also using it to share his political opinions freely even though the board was for school-related information.  As you can probably guess his opinions were on the left side of the political spectrum.  As you can also guess his comments on Israel were not, to say the least, friendly. 
It was bad enough that the Jewish students in my office expressed discomfort with having him around.  It's one thing to have strong views but in medicine one of the unspoken but very important rules is "Leave your politics at the door".  I've had Muslim students galore in my office and ER.  We stayed away from political discussions and got on fabulously.  I don't bring my beliefs into the department and I expect others not to as well.
Over time the name of his guy faded from memory.  My students graduated and moved on through residency and onto independent practice.  Then, last Saturday night I arrived at the ER I always work at on Motzei Shabbos and met the new guy who had just joined the staff.  He was friendly and the nurses said they liked how he worked (always important).  Then I heard his name.  At first I thought "Wait, I know that name" and after a few minutes it came to me.  It was that guy my students had told me about.
Now here's the predicament.  There is no doubt this guy is a Jew hater.  (I try to avoid the term anti-Semite because of all of those ignoramuses out there who say "Well an Arab can't be an anti-Semite because they're Semites too)  A quick Bing search of his name  along with the word "Israel" brings up a plethora of links including his Twitter feed where he discusses an elective he did in 'Aza during residency.  His comments are, as expected, about the great resilience of the so-called Palestinian people who are suffering from the "illegal" seige and "indiscriminate shelling" that Israel is throwing at them.  It's the usual Jew hating crap when it comes to Israel and its enemies.
So how do I know he's a Jew hater?  He could be just another leftist useful idiot.  I put it to the test.  I reentered his name into Bing along with "Tibet" (occupied by China), "Darfur" (occupied by Sudan), "East Timor" (occupied by Indonesia) and "Rwanda" (site of a large massacre a few years ago, you might have heard about it).  No hits.
Like all other Jew haters he is the kind of guy who cloaks his venom in a respectful facade of caring about social justice and oppressed people but there's only one people he cares about and only one side of a story he wants to hear before rendering his verdict.  I doubt he's toured S'derot or Be'er Sheva and seen the damage rockets from 'Aza have produced.  Frankly I don't think such a tour would make a difference.  He'd just see them as acts of resistant and blame Israel anyway.
But what's bugging me is how nice he is.  He did handover without an issue (naturally there was no mention of my kippah), told the staff a few jokes and went on his way.  He followed the rule: leave your politics at the door. 
I will happily admit I was fortunate to grow up in a sort of bubble.  I experiences no Jew hatred as a child or young adult.  The only time Jew hating slogans were shouted at me were by high school acquaintances who were not Jew haters but simply wanted to insult me and chose the least imaginative way possible. 
In university I was aware that there were Jew haters on campus and of the occasional anti-Israel protests but I graduated long before Israel Apartheid Week came into being and besides, I never had time to look into these things.  Unlike leftists who don't seem to have any academic responsibilities I actually had exams to study for which meant long hours in the library.
The only real trouble being Jewish caused me duing my medical training came from other Jews who were quite happy to insist that I should be scheduled to work on Shabbos because they didn't keep Shabbos and didn't see why I should.  In contrast, my gentile colleagues were always very accomodating.
So I've never really encountered a true Jew hater.  What bothers me is that this guy isn't the typical stereotype.  He isn't the elistist WASPish snob, nor is he the uneducated white trash guy in the wife-beater getup.  He's a nice guy, educated but not aloof and very friendly, yet he hates what I hold most dear and has common cause with the dedicated enemies of my people.
It probably won't be much of an issue.  I generally work overnight shifts which means I work alone ("plays nicely with others" isn't a comment I got too much on my report cards growing up) and I will not bring up politics at work, like I wrote about.  But he is a stark reminder that the friendly face a Jew runs into throughout society might be hiding some of the most ancient hatred plaguing mankind.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Elections Are Bad For Judaism

The municipal elections for mayor in Israel are happening today and reading the ongoing saga of the election campaign from out here in golus has been truly frightening.  Perhaps it's because I'm Canadian and just expect a certain level of civility but listening to the tactic various candidates have use to promote themselves is really scary.  Tearing down one's opponent's signs is bad enough but in this case it's the most benign strategy being used.  Did a Chareidi newspaper really print a picture suggesting that the non-Chareidi candidate in the Beit Shemesh race would put Chareidi children in to concentration camps?  Did more than one "Gadol" threaten those who don't vote for the parties they recommend with death?
For as long as I can remember elections in Israel have been a rancorous affair.  Possibly that's because there's so much at stake.  In addition the various parties have real differences in their platforms in terms of the direction they want to take their electorate in.  As opposed to Canada where the biggest distinction between party platforms is the colour of the cover page of their policy book, Israeli politics generates meaningful discussions and real passion. 
Too much passion sometimes.  Am I the only person who remembers the mid 1980's Likud convention (I think it was 1986) that had to be cancelled because of fist fights and thrown chairs?  Or the election campaign in the mid-1990's where multiple postal workers were fined for refusing to deliver campaign propaganda from parties they disagreed with?
All of this would be fun to watch were it not for the involvement of the religious parties.  For all the Chareidi PR machine tries to convince us of the holiness and purity of that community the behaviour of its political representatives easily smashes that image.  Whether its the ongoing disgrace that is the mayor's race in Beit Shemesh or the lack of any campaign in Bene Beraq since only the "Gadol approved" candidate is allowed to run, the face of the Chareidi community these cretins display is very discouraging.
One concern is, of course, the demographic time bomb.  A majority of young Jewish children in Israel are Chareidi.  Even with a strong OTD rate the community's representation in Israeli politics is going to continue to increase.  Even if it doesn't at the national level the number of towns now Chareidi controlled is increasing.  This is no longer a fringe phenomenon but a national concern.
And what can we expect from this ongoing development?  What will a dominant Chareidi political establishment look like?  Contempt for the masses, supreme power to "the Gedolim" and real power concentrated in the hands of their handlers who will decide what anouncements these sages will make and what they will expect from the people.  Non-compliance will be dealth with by threats of violence and death.  Freedom of expression will be a thing of the past.  Only think what you are told to think, only do what you are told to do and don't ask any questions.  How dare you expect "the Gedolim" to explain themselves to a maggot like you?
Worse than that will be the backlash from the general public.  For people for whom freedom of expression (as long as you agree with me, otherwise we'll have to argue loudly) and belief are cherished values the idea that a group of old men, wise as they are, controlled by power-hungry askanim will dictate their lives to them is unacceptable.  This is the impression they will get of Torah: we frum types are just like the Iranians and Saudis except we wear different outfits.  Is that not a chilul HaShem of the highest order?
From what I've read the Chareidi response has broken down into two groups.  One group is sick of this behaviour. A major sage calling for his opponents to be killed sickens them.  They love being Chareidi, they love all the great positive things the community possseses in spades, they love the fervour of the worship and the intensity of the Torah learning but they can't stand the people who are making their look like the Jewish equivalents of Muslim fanatics.
Then there are their counterparts who cannot comprehend even questioning "the Gedolim".  If Maran HaGaon Rav X says people who don't vote for the right parties deserve to beaten and die they'll line up at the hardware store to purchase a crowbar (during men's shopping hours) to eagerly participate.  They will see their subsequent idiocy as a mitzvah performance of the highest order.
It is therefore imperative that the outside community reach out to the reasonable part of the Chareidi community and offer them what will be an uncomfortable choice: are you with us for fairness and rationality or are you with them because they're your buddies?  Are you interested in a Torah community that represents intelligent thought and action or with the primitives who still see drunken Cossacks around every corner?
The problem with politics is that it is a mudpit.  Even the greatest "Gadol" with all his learning and purity gets covered in mud when he jumps into it.

Thursday 17 October 2013

The Vanishing Jews

The recent release of the Pew Report on American Jewry has excited lots of comment.  Before jumping to any conclusions one would be wise to heed Samuel Clemens' famous observation: "There are lies, damned lies and then there are statistics."  With any large study people will first jump to conclusions and then look at the data relevant to those conclusions.  The Pew Report will not be any different.
What fascinates me about the report is how it highlights the possibly irreconcilable divide between Torah-observant Jews and our non-observant brethren.  In short, it seems to imply that for the non-observant we're not really brethren at all.  While from an Orthodox perspective Judaism is a nationality with religious content and the definition of "Who is a Jew" is a legal one from the non-Orthodox perspective there seems to be no iron-clad definition at all.  Hence the categories in the survey called "Jew of no religion", "Jewish not by religion" and my personal favourite, "Not Jewish".  Apparently the latter includes folks who love what they think is Judaism and therefore consider themselves Jewish without any actual legal tie to the Jewish nation.
It all seems to boil down to the difference between American Jews and Jewish Americans.  For the former the "Jew" in the identity is the primary factor.  I am a Canadian Jew, therefore I am kin with English Jews, Russian Jews, etc. through our joint shared nationality.  He is a Jewish Canadian, therefore the main part of his identity is shared with other Canadians, not so much with other Jews.
The price of this lack of proper understanding of their Jewish heritage comes with a high price.  A scandalously high percentage of non-observant Jews don't fast on Yom Kippur which might not sound so out of place for a group of people who also don't keep Shabbos or kosher but fasting on Yom Kippur, outside of its strictly legal importance, has always been one of the last things a failing Jew does before giving up entirely on his connection to Am Yisrael.
Similarly the percentage of Jews who don't participate in a seder on Pesach raises alarms for the non-observant community for the same reason.  Interestingly I download a pdf of the report and searched the terms "circumcision" and "brit milah".  No results came back.  I'm happy with that because I don't want to know what percentage of Jews have abandoned our most ancient ritual.
Perhaps this is why the Chareidi sector of the Torah-observant community doesn't take the non-religious part seriously.  On our side being Jewish is the core of one's identity and comes with very specific requirements and responsibilities.  The idea that one could claim to be a proud Jew while also an atheist is laughable.  We are the people of God, banim laShem.  On the non-observant side, however, it's not a contradicition.  Being Jewish is like being Italian.  It comes with ethnic foods, ethnic slang and ethnic behaviours, nothing more.  A proud non-observant Jew would see no conflict between his feelings for Judaism (as he defines it) and marrying a non-Jewish spouse of either gender.
Another concerning statistic that seems to pop out of the survey is the Orthodox proportion in the total Jewish population.  Now one should take the number with a grain of salt.  After all, this is a study in which a percentage of people who were identified as "Orthodox" intermarried!  But on the other hand the overall number, 10%, bears looking at.  Over the last few decades there have been repeated studies on the American Jewish population and for some reason Orthodoxy always winds up at 10%.  Now the true number might be larger if one excludes from the study all those non-Jews who someone wound up in it but it still forces one to question the famous kiruv statement that Orthodoxy is the future of all Jews because the non-religious will assimilate out and disappear.  This line has been in currency for 50 years and during that time the 10% number hasn't budged.  This is the starkest warning of the size of the OTD crisis, in my opinion.  After all, even if assimilation rates for the Reformatives are overstated the sheer fecundity of the Orthodox population should have led it to dominance by now.
I am certain that many secular Jewish organizations will study this report and convene committees on "the Jewish future" and "Jewish continuity" because of the alarming numbers regarding assimilation and marrying out.  Like the last dozen times we'll hear about calls for more free trips to Israel, more Holocaust education, more social groups for Jewish youth as the cure to what ails us.  This will all happen despite a 50 year track record of producing no results.  The thought that education Jews to be Jewish through halachic observance and through a sense of connection to 3500 years of history all the way back to Matan Torah will simply not occur to them and, if suggested, will give them a feeling of revulsion.
Meanwhile we Orthodox will continue creating large families and educating them in Torah and mitzvos observance.
Many years ago I posted the following comment on the Cross Currents blog (back in the days before I was banned from it) and I think it's still relevant today: They have conferences, we have babies.  Let's see who wins.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

YCT Is The Agudah's Fault

The Agudah has long been trying to trademark Orthodox Judaism and make its definition "He who is Orthodox like us".  Through its PR efforts, publications and kiruv work the folks at the Agudah have been trying hard to convince the rest of the world that they are the genuine form of Orthodoxy and anything else that claims to be a Torah-observant is either a deviation or step down from the real thing.
It therefore seems to be infuriating to them to have the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah crowd come along with their "Open Orthodoxy" and "Morethodoxy" initiatives and announce to the world "Hey!  We're Orthodox and we're cool!"  It flies in the face of everything the Agudah has been trying to achieve and only leads to confusing questions like "If they're Orthodox why don't they wear black hats?"  It leads to repeated attacks by the Agudah's PR folks repeatedly pointing out the obviously flaws in Morethodoxy's ideology.  And, of course it has lead to rejoinders from the YCT crowd and ongoing attempts to justify their new form of Orthodoxy.
The problem with all this back and forth is that it misses the real point which is a tremendous flaw in Torah Judaism today.  In fact I would suggest this flaw has become de facto Torah Judaism today even though it's destructive to real Torah observance but it is so entrenched that no one even sees it.
In short, ritual has replaced reason.
Those who denigrate the Reformatives for their ongoing egalitarian watering down of Judaism sometimes fail to remember that for the non-Orthodox Judaism is a lot like Chrisianity.  Saturday morning services and the occasional holiday party are pretty much the extent of their Judaism just like for Chrisians Sunday morning services are about the only religious behaviours they indulge in.  And as been noted exhaustively before, if all your religion has is a service of public rituals and this service excludes women then the religion itself comes to be seen as patently unfair.
Let's extend this to Orthodoxy.  Yes, I know that for the Torah-observant Judaism doesn't begin or end in shul and its already well-established that the three cardinal behavioural mitzvos, kashrus, Shabbos and taharas mishpacha are women-dominated but Orthodox doesn't seem to revolve around that anymore.
Look at the right side of Orthodoxy.  Far from dominating it, women are increasingly being relegated to non-existence.  We have mehadrin buses, the burka babes of Beit Shemesh, Photoshop(tm) efforts to remove women from any public photos and a general attempt to make them seem that all women are sources of sin and temptation that need to be buried from public view.  The more one distances women from one's reality, harei zeh meshubach!
On the other side we have YCT and its ongoing efforts to create Egalitarian Orthodoxy.  Other than the mechitza there is a hardly an area of synagogue ritual that the Morethodox haven't altered in order to be more "inclusive" if not halacha-obedient.
But behind all the various justifications for these initiatives is the missed point.  Jewish observance, the learning of Torah and the performance of mitzvos are about developing a relationship with God and bringing His Will into this world through our actions.  If I keep an extra-special bit kosher it should be motivated by my desire to come closer to Him, not just to keep up with the Jonesteins or because it feels right to be machmir for the point of being machmir.
This is, however, not what is happening out there.  On the right side the stringencies are increasingly becoming the defining factors of Orthodox Judaism.  It's not tzedakah, chesed or rachmanus that are being stressed but what we wear, how much Yeshivish we speak and how much we avoid interaction with the opposite gender that are the gauges of Orthodoxy.  We pride ourselves on being an intelligent people but for many in the Orthodox world it is the mindless mumbling of the mantra "I only do what the Gedolim tell me to do and never dare think for myself" that is repeated over and over.
And again on the other side YCT doesn't seem to be so much motivated by a genuine desire to connect to the Divine as a dynamic that suggest that secular liberalism is the Divine will so the closer Orthodox Judaism comes towards it the more true it will be.  Their mantra is quite similar: "I do what secular liberals tell me to do."
But if YCT has any traction and is gaining any ground among possible adherent one can only blame the Agudah.  All its attempts to limit the definition of "Torah true" to its crowd and those to the right of it have led to countless observant Jews feeling disenfranchised or unconnected.  If you tell someone with a rational mind that he must surrender his independence of thought to "the Gedolim" and accept religious opinions that are patently contradicted by reality (for example, the age of the world and whether or not dinosaurs existed) if he wants to be Orthodox you will drive him from Torah observance.  Many folks recognize that the stringencies that exist in mainstream Chareidism are largely a result of a "holier than thou" attitude with many of them having little justification in halacha (separate seating at Shabbos meals, for example).
These folks don't want to leave Orthodoxy so instead they react.  Does the Agudah want us to believe that mehadrin buses are normative Judaism?  We'll bring in women to lead services.  Doese the Agudah hold that photoshopping women out of advertisements and newspaper photos is unexceptional Jewish practice consistent with our mesorah?  We'll give the women aliyos as well.  To a large extent YCT is simple an opposing reacton to the folks who have taken Torah observance too far to the right and is yanking left hard in order to keep it relevant to its followers.  Do the Chareidim believe that Jews are a Chosen People with a special relationship to God and subject to an all-encompassing halacha that affects our entire lives and defines right and wrong?  YCT will simply redefine Orthodox as one movement amongst many, equal and equivalent without any aspect of exceptionalism.  Does Cross Currents wants you to believe the Torah we have today is 100% identical to the one handed by God to Moshe Rabeinu, a"h without a single letter having changed over the millenia?  YCT will have its number one guy publish essays on the internet endorsing the Documentary Hypothesis!
The more the Chareidi community pushes to to the right the more outrageous YCT's antic will become.  The critical difference is that there seems to be no right border to Orthodoxy.  The most nutbar Satmars who think that burning the Israeli flag on Iyyar 5 is a tradition that dates back to Matan Torah are still considered Orthodox. But there is a left sided border to Orthodoxy and the time will come when YCT will cross it.  Then how will they justify themselves?

Thursday 10 October 2013

Let's Kill The Sick!

Dr. Donald Low, a Toronto physician who was a main player in the fight against SARS a decade ago recently passed away.  He was a real hero whose level-headed leadership during the crisis was decisive in local public health's containment of and successful struggle again the virus.  Beyond that he was am indefatigable teacher, prolific researcher and clinical, an inspiration to a generation of students.
Unfortunately life was not kind to him after that.  He suffered from cancer and after a courageous battle with his brain tumour he recently succumbed at the young age of 68.
But in his final days he also had a dark side.  Like too many unfortunate people who must struggle with painful illnesses at the end of their days it seems he seems to have decided that he should have had the right to end his life when the prognosis became hopeless and the suffering intolerable.  To that end an interview from the final days of his life shows him expressing the view that assisted suicide should become a legal option for people in Canada. In the interview he noted that he was frustrated that the system couldn't accommodate him like it would have had he lived elsewhere like certain European countries.  He lamented that the debate in Canada was so difficult to have on a "mature" level and opined that people who opposed him should have to live 24 hours in his body to see what real suffering is like.  And naturally the liberal crowd which supports his position chimed in to support him.
Without meaning any disrespect to the dead, could Dr. Low have been any more condescending?
Consider how he set up the discussion.  He implied that if you opposed him you didn't understand him.  He came out and stated that mature discussion was difficult which means if you oppose him you're not capable of having that mature discussion.  He felt that the last days of his life should have been enjoyable, something that all people wish for but so few get to have.
It is really not surprising that a significant number of folks in the Western world and especially in Canada are in favour of assisted suicide.  We live in a culture where unborn foetuses live under constant threat of being aborted for such deep reasons as "Oops, I forgot to take my pill like I was supposed to".  If the lives of the unborn are worthless and unprotected it is not a huge step to extend that kind of the thinking to the old and palliative.  It seems it's all about convenience.  We are used to unwanted babies.  Now we have unwanted sick people, so unwanted that they are undesired even by themselves!
I do not wish to minimize or dismiss the suffering Dr. Low and others suffering like him went and are going through.  As a physician I well know how much pain, nausea, confusion, sweating, shortness of breath and other disturbing symptoms the dying patient can go through.  I have seen people degenerate into unmanageable Alzheimer's states causing a horrible burden on themselves and their caregivers.  I have watched people linger away from chronic heart failure and lung disease.  People too often outlive their minds or bodies.  These are fates I would only wish on my worst enemy and I certainly want not even a taste of them in my life, chas v'shalom.
Finally one must keep in mind that a position endorsing assisted suicide is a sure sign of a godless secular society where life is no more valuable that those shoes you bought last week.  Great to have around while comfy, easy to throw away when worn out.
And don't think that I'm exaggerating.  Only a few years ago The National Post carried the story of an elderly woman who was lobbying for assisted suicide for herself.  She was in perfect health but was recently widowed and in her grieving state couldn't stand the idea of going on without her husband.  It seemed perfectly reasonable for her to demand the right to commit suicide rather than go on alone.  For those who think that assisted suicide would be restricted to the very ill or elderly I would ask: how would you justify to this woman that she doesn't qualify?  How about someone who has just been diagnosed with an incurable illness?  If he says that he'd rather end things now way before he begins to feel any serious decline, will he be told he first has to suffer a little before being allowed to kill himself legally?
And that's why I have to state my opposition to Dr. Low.  For one thing, there is the bias he presents by being a member of the group he supports.  Yes, I cannot truly appreciate the suffering he endured but his enduring that suffering is exactly why he should not have been opining about the role of assisted suicide in Canada.  The decision should not be up to people who have already made the decision because fate has dealt them a lousy hand and they see killing themselves as the only acceptable option.  What's more, the decision should be in the hands of people who see some value in life.  Not lip service "Well of course life is important" folks but those, religious or secular, who truly see life as something more than just another commodity we're stuck with, who see being alive as bigger than them.
I'm sorry if Dr. Low thought that disagreeing with him means I'm immature.  I'd rather be immature and value life than be mature and live a meaningless existence with the thought of ending it the minute I couldn't have my self-perceived entitlement of a suffering-free life anymore.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Obtenez les grenouilles d'ici

One of the crowning achievements of Canadians society is the success of multiculturalism.  As a country we have taken in people from all corners of the globe and encouraged them to not assimilate upon their arrival here.  Instead of expecting them to adapt to local mores and customs we encourage them to continue to act as they did in their home countries.  When it comes to dress, language and behaviour we seem to send out the message that their becoming more Canadian would actually be a disappointment.
This is true for the entire country outside of Quebec.  Inside la belle province the story is quite a bit different.  The White French majority, fed on a diet of "We are under threat!" propaganda for the last few decades, is revolting against multiculturalism.  They have seen a future in which the burka replaces the beret and they're not going to put up with it.  While the rest of Canada does what it can to bury its English heritage (including the parts about hard work, honesty and quite civility) these Quebecois are determined to protect and enforce theirs.
Hence the recent introduction of Bill 14 into the Quebec provincial parliament.  To be charitable, it's a fascist law that forbids civil servants the wearing of religious garb of any kind while at work in public buildings.  Are you a Sikh who works in the Ministry of Transportation office?  Sorry, leave your turban at home.  Are you a Jew who works for the Human Resources Ministry?  Kippah off at the door, my friend.
Now, as others have  noted there is a reason for this bill.  It's called the niqab, the garment worn by some Muslim women that covered their entire body except their eyes.  Muslim immigration to Quebec has increased over the last few years and, like everywhere else, the number of women going around with their faces covered has gone up.  This has led to some valid concerns in a variety of areas.  Canadian law says that the accused has a right to see his accuser.  What if his accuser is a woman in a niqab?  Canadian law says that when you vote you have to present ID to prove who you are.  Well what about the woman who won't show her face?
The government of Quebec, faced with this challenge, pulled out a hammer to kill the ant.  Instead of creating a simple law that said "Public workers are forbidden from wearing face coverings while on the job" they reached for the far more fascistic banning of all religious symbols by those workers.  It's not hard to understand why.  Quebec has been anti-religion ever since emerging from centuries of reactionary rule by the Catholic Church.  Why just go after the niqab if you now have an opening to attack all religions?
We must also remember that the Quebecois consider themselves quite progressive.  This is, after all, the province with the highest rate of fetus murders in the country and also the first one to legalize the execution of the infirm elderly.  Isn't killing off the most helpless in your population a sign of how civilized you are?  One of the things a progressive society is not is racist.  If they were to just ban face covering the Muslims would scream "racism".  Better to attack a bunch of races all at once to avoid that.
Finally one must consider that some secularists are just as fanatic about spreading their beliefs as some religious folks.  We see coercion is all religious societies.  Islamic countries and Chareidi neighbourhoods are excellent examples of how a fanatic fringe can control the behaviour of the more sensible majority.  The secular leadership in Quebec is behaving in a similar fashion.  They hate religious symbols and therefore they are going to ban them as best they can.  Goose and gander, mes amis.
What's really amazed me, though, is the public response.  A sizable proportion of Quebec's population, and a not-insignificant number of people in the Rest of Canada (RoC) support this law and many of them feel it doesn't go far enough, thinking that all religious symbols should be publicly banned.
Imagine that.  I'm walking down the street with my kippah on.  It doesn't affect you.  I don't walk over and try to impose my views on you.  But you think I should be forbidden to wear it because seeing religious symbols offend you.  Now who's intolerant?
And what about religious symbols worn for non-religious reasons?  If I, as a Jew, wear a turban will that also be forbidden because it's objectively a religious piece of clothing or will it be permitted because for me it has no religious significance?
Having said all that, I am strongly in favour of Bill 14.  As a long-time resident of Ontario I can confidently say that the Parti Quebecois, with their racist and idiotic ideas, has been the best thing to happen to the province I live in.  Every time they come up with another one of their pur laine initiatives many of the remaining Quebecers with have an ounce of sense in their brains jump into their cars and migrate down the 401 highway to us.  The influx has been especially good for the Jewish community of southern Ontario which was, until the first exodus from Quebec almost 40 years ago, a dull and colourless place.
Alors, allez, mes camarades fascistes. Apportez votre meilleur et les plus brillants de votre facture et de laisser venir de notre côté.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Maybe Extend Their Vacation A Little More?

For those not following the news in Canada, Tarek Loubani and John (not Dick) Greyson are two Canadian citizens recently arrested in Egypt.  Loubani is an emergency room physician and Greyson is a filmmaker. A few weeks ago both arrived in Egypt with the intention of going on to 'Aza.  Their intention was for Greyson to film a documentary featuring Loubani working in an 'Aza hospital helping out the locals.  After arriving in Egypt they encountered one of the regular anti-government riots and were arrested by the military when they swept through to end that particular protest.  Since that time they were held in an Egyptian jail under conditions that could generously described as unsavoury.  From the government to celebrities, the hopes for their well-being and the demands for their release were unrelenting.  Today the news is announcing that they've been released.  And all I can say is...
Gosh, couldn't the Egyptians keep them a little longer?
In case you think that sounds cold, well it's meant to.  Let me give you a little background on Loubani and Greyson.  Loubani is a so-called Palestinian who had made frequent trips to 'Aza and been involved in anti-Israel protests.  Greyson, on the other hand, can't seem to find enough anti-Israel causes to get involved in.  One report I read stated that the point of the documentary they were going to 'Aza to film was to "expose" how the Israeli "occupation" was negatively impacting the health of ordinary folks in the Strip.
The arrest in Egypt must have come as quite a surprise to them.  For one thing, they're "activists" and think that they are immune to the vicious whims of international demagogues.  For another they were on their way to 'Aza to film a documentary that would demonize Israel.  Egypt, recall, is a major international source for Jew hating literature.  Whether the government is Islamist or martial, bashing Israel is a common feature to keep the mobs there happy.  Sure they thought that having a common enemy would accord them red carpet treatment?
One can indeed imagine them screaming "But we also hate the Zionists!" as they were being dragged off to incarceration.
So unlikely my fellow citizens I didn't look at the them and think that two of my fellow Canadians were in a dangerous situation.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I was quite happy that two Jew haters who masquerade as human rights activists (human rights for all except Jews) were getting their comeuppance.  I just wonder why it couldn't be for a little longer.