Speaking Engagements

Posted January 05, 2011 | 24 Comments

I seem to be invited to an increasing number of speaking engagements. I usually find myself talking about growing up Jewish, Orthodox and gay, reading a short excerpt from my book, then taking questions and selling and signing copies.

I think the main reason I enjoy accepting these invitations is that the people seem genuinely interested in my experience as a child and young adult as I realized that I was gay and different in a radical way from the other boys at school.

I also enjoy taking questions from members of my audience, usually consisting of small groups – especially book clubs. Often the question period gives me insight into the experiences and viewpoints of other people. Of course, I receive tremendous gratification from the people who have already read my book and have enjoyed it.

However, I have some not-yet=achieved goals as far as giving talks is concerned. Speaking to woman’s and gay groups is no longer challenging. The groups I want to speak to the most include straight men and children. I want to explain to straight men that being gay is no threat to them. I do not believe that sexual orientation is something to experiment with. On the other hand, the sex drive towards whatever sex, is something that should be an aspect of character that is accepted.

As far as school children are concerned, I believe that there is still a suspicion of the “other”, of the unknown. Homosexuality should be presented as a mere variant in the human condition, not as something to be feared. Today, gay men and Lesbians have no barriers, at least not here in Canada; marriage, adoption, parenthood – they are all available.

Sleep

Posted January 03, 2011 | 16 Comments

I have a special relationship with sleep. We do not get along. I’ve always been a light sleeper. As a child, I couldn’t get to sleep until my parents went to bed. I would lie awake waiting for the next sound that would keep me up.

During the day I can tolerate practically any amount of noise – but after midnight I cannot. The sound of my own snoring can sometimes wake me up. Those times I recognize the absurdity of my dreams I wake up laughing.

Three times in my life I have had to move house, once in London and Twice in Montreal because of the noise. Thankfully where I live now, on a dead end street on the top floor – is very quiet. Such a blessing.

It isn’t just noise that will keep me awake. The slightest anxiety or even a preoccupation causes my thoughts to churn; dwelling on a situation and how to make some improvement.

I rationalize when I have insomnia: “My body is resting, so I’ll be fine tomorrow.” As often as I tell myself this, I am often forced to catnap in the afternoon after a sleepless night. Of course If I am unable to relax for hours and hours, I will get up and sit in the living room with the lights low on my paintings, trying desperately to feel tired/ It may or may not work. Sometimes I try reciting to myself the first paragraph of the Shema, the holiest prayer in Judaism, which I know by heart – but even that doesn’t always work.

I have come to realize that daily exercise, walking or cycling, can be helpful in tiring me out and helping me sleep  – but the weather in Montreal does not always permit.

Shabbat

Posted January 01, 2011 | 20 Comments

Shabbat is a very special day for me, and not just because of the spiritual aspect.

When I light the candles on Shabbat, my regular routine stops for a little while. During the week, I’m always extremely busy; some of my activities include morning Synagogue services, which means getting up at 6:30 am, exercising and being in Shul. Breakfast is generally served after the service, and I’m home to start by day at around 9:45.

On Monday mornings I attend a bible class at the synagogue, and Monday evenings, I attend a creative writing group. Tuesday mornings, I tutor a student in English literacy. He’s a charming man from Jamaica, who has difficulty reading. I find helping him very rewarding.

Wednesday evenings, although not each and every week, I go to a Kabbala class. Thursday’s are free, so far, but I have occasional subscriptions to the theatre and modern Ballet performances. By the time Friday rolls around, I’m ready for Shabbat. In the evening I generally either entertain friends to dinner, or go to their place.

On Saturday mornings I attend Synagogue, a link with my heritage, history and community, and in the afternoons I read the newspaper and relax. By the time Shabbat ends, I feel reinvigorated and ready for another week of activities.

For me, Shabbat is a combination of spirituality, socializing and quality time alone. Without it I’d be a wreck – or more of a wreck!

Feel free to contradict me…

Seasons

Posted December 30, 2010 | 18 Comments

In Montreal we have four distinct seasons. Usually, by the time we get really fed up with one season, the next one rolls around.

In the heat of summer, we miss the cosiness of winter. During the winter freeze, we miss the sunshine of summer.

For the two years I lied in Israel, what did I miss the most? The Sunday drives into the Quebec countryside under a bright, pale sun through a snow-covered landscape. How I missed the cold and snow! Nowadays, though, some winter conditions frighten me. I lead a very active life, but I live on the third floor of a walk up apartment building – No elevator. My fear is of slipping on the ice and breaking a leg. My fear is of being housebound. More than the discomfort and inconvenience of a broken leg, I fear the isolation.

Of course, friends would come and visit me at the beginning, but people have their lives to lead, and I would soon be abandoned. So I feel very lucky to have a solution: winter travel. Not, not to Florida – I don’t like Florida, but to anywhere else where there’s no snow.

On the other hand, summer time in Montreal is a joy. I love my terrace with its view of our little mountain. Also, the city abounds in festivals, summer theatre and easily accessible country drives. Montreal is also an excellent city for eating out, either for an evening meal, or crowd gazing from an outdoor cafe.

So here’s my invitation to you: Drop me a note, come and visit Montreal, and we’ll meet for coffee. It’s a dare.

Relationships

Posted December 28, 2010 | 26 Comments

Relationships are the most precious element and the most precarious in human interaction. Every morning, as I made my bed, I think of two former friends who are socially challenged. Who make their beds only when they change the bed linen.

I don’t mean to suggest that people who don’t make their beds every day are socially inept. Well – maybe I do.

I believe that to have and to hold a friendship – which means having a care and concern for another person, we must first care for ourselves. And that’s where bed making comes in. Caring for ourselves. For me, self-esteem comes before esteem for others.

It isn’t easy. Subconsciously, if not consciously, we are each aware of our own imperfections. A rumpled bed is a reflection of our own humanity and the fact that we are not angels. We need to sink into our pit every 24 hours.

But that pit needs fixing when we get up and continue with our lives.

Relationshios can change. In the last few years I have lost three friendships that I considered close and precious.  Yet the nature of those friendships changed over time to such an extent that the pain they caused me made them not worth keeping. I was upset, but realized that my own self-esteem was far greater than the lack of esteem those former friends had for me.

The challenge, then, was not to become arrogant, saying that I am right and they are wrong. People change. I no longer fitted into what they expected of me and vice versa.

Fortunately I have other friends, but I’m not sure if those former friends – who rarely make their beds, have any of their own.

Rebbe

Posted December 26, 2010 | 19 Comments

Let me tell you about one of my most special possessions. It’s an oval picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson. He passed away in 1994. Here’s how I came to own th picture:

When I moved from London to Vancouver in 1968, one of my closest friends was a Morrocan-born Jew, I’ll call him Jim. We would celebrate the Jewish holidays as best we could and attend Synagogue sometimes on Shabbat. Over the years we lost touch, until he, too, moved to Montreal, where we saw each other occasionally.

Jim’s health was not good and he took an early retirement from an airline company. Then he got into bad company.

I was away in Israel when he passed away. On my return, I had a phone message from his brother giving me the sad news. When I called back to offer  my condolences, he asked me to accompany him to Jim’s apartment to meet with his Landlady and to see how things were there.

We arrived to find the place in shambles. Piles of old clothes in the bedroom, what looked like drug paraphernalia in the kitchen, stagnant water in the bath. A total mess. Jim’s brother was in shock. “Take anything you want” he said. I looked around and decided to take a small glass goblet as a souvenir of my friend. I also saw the Rebbe’s picture hanging on the wall.

Now I don’t believe in idolatry, but I knew that everything else in the apartment would be thrown into the garbage. I could not let that happen to the Rebbe’s picture, so I brought it home. I am also not superstitious, but since I placed the pictures in my kitchen, I seem to have enjoyed a new lease on life. For instance, who would have imagined that I would ever write a book that has made such an impression on so many people.

Mountain Climbing

Posted December 24, 2010 | 12 Comments

Yesterday I climbed a mountain, Mont Saint-Hilaire, a park close to Montreal.  I can’t believe that I actually did it. It took me and a friend of mine three hours of hiking to get up and down, but the view from the top was incredible.

As you can see, I’m no youngster, and at one point I had visions of having a heart attack and being shipped down the mountain on a stretcher. I suppose I got into the rhythm of clambering up steep steps and over rocks. In fact, at the top of the mountain was a small sheer cliff with a rope attached to it. I had to pull myself up to finally enjoy the great view and rappel myself down on the return trip. What a sense of achievement when we finally returned to the car!

Most of the other people we met on the path were young enough to be my grandchildren. The thought crossed my mind – “Will they be able to make the trek when the reach my age?” Another thought crossed my mind: “I’ll probably never undertake this adventure again.” I believe in respecting my physically limitations and that climb put a strain on them.

The point I want to make is that it’s important to recognize a challenge and then to accept it, if it’s feasible, otherwise life just falls into a boring routine, and my idea of hell is a situation that never changes.

So onward and upward. I’d be interested to know what your latest challenge was and how you met it.

Lonliness

Posted December 22, 2010 | 42 Comments

Loneliness is something that everyone has to deal with, in one way or another – so how do we define it?

I define it as the inability to communicate with another individual for whatever reason. It follows that the opposite of loneliness is sharing, on a verbal or experiential level. Thus can a family man or woman feel lonely within the family in spite of the physical closeness – just as one person can feel lonely in a crowd.

While being alone can be lonely, with all of the modern devices for communication, from the telephone to the IPad – being alone is not the same as being lonely. Being alone can be called a necessary element in the human condition. Sometimes we need to take stock of our life situation, a process that cannot be accomplished in the company of others. Reading, also, required removing oneself into another world.

I used to imagine that gay men and lesbians were more lonely than heterosexuals – I know that I’ve experienced Loneliness far more often than I’d like. But then I became aware of how difficult it is for heterosexuals to find life partners. Individuals are all so unique that finding and ideal match is like finding a needle in a haystack.

Compromise is a must, as far as I am concerned. I get different things from different people, and when I take stock of my own life, as a whole, I realize how lucky and un-lonely I am.

Lifestyle

Posted December 20, 2010 | 22 Comments

On a recent Saturday morning, Shabbat, I was in synagogue and enjoying the beautiful music from the choir. It occurred to me that I knew how the melody would unfold, how it would modulate and how it would end. In fact, I knew how the rest of the service would proceed as well – and the rest of my day – the rest of my week.

Eventually my thoughts turned to the third world, Africa, India and even the poor of the America’s. The poorest among them have little idea of where their next meal will come from. How would I have survived if I had been one of them? This was, of course, the train of thought that inspired my book: How would I have survived as a gay orthodox Jew in a 19th century Polish ghetto?

While to some extent, we have control over our lives, once we grow enough to learn how our environment functions – we have no control of course, over how and when we are born. That is the choice of our parents. And that is what triggers parents in an unfriendly or depressed society to emigrate.

I remember the words of my grandparents: “Alles por der kinder” Everything for the children. I emigrated from London to Montreal, and while I feel totally Canadian, because of the way I speak I will always be seen as British.

I once met a British immigrant who took lessons to speak with a Canadian accent – and no one knew he was an immigrant.

So what is the conclusion? Rich man, poor man, immigrant or native born? We can only do what chance and nature have empowered us to do. But we can also create our own will and fashion the lifestyle we wish to have.

Canadiana

Posted December 18, 2010 | 18 Comments

I arrived in Canada without one suitcase. I cannot believe all the stuff I’ve by now collected. But besides my pictures and objets d’art, it’s my bedroom furniture and furnishings I treasure the most.

I suppose that purchasing my pine armoire, chest of drawers, desk and trunk reflected my desire to identify with the country. Similarly, my group of three tiffany-style lamps. I look at them every night as I prepare for bed, my memory flies back to the happy time when I acquired them.

I was with my long-time partner, Yves, and we would take a drive in a north-easterly direction to a little village called Lavaltrie. There were several antiques dealers there, but the one we always went to had a huge warehouse and a small house, both stuffed with antiques of all types.

The owner, and I can still picture him so well, was a tall, stocky man with a considerable belly, and he always had the stub of a cigar dangling from his lips. He was a very pleasant man, easy to deal with  and always prepared to strike a bargain.

Most of his stock must have come from estate sales in the area, the older generation having passed on and the children wishing to throw out the old and bring in the new. Of course I understand that too much of that old-fashioned stuff would be overwhelming, but as you might have gathered, I have a strong attachment to history and tradition. Although the pieces I’ve described are not part of my heritage, with time, they have become so. After all, moi, Je suis devenu Quebecois et Canadien.