Wednesday, May 22, 2019

They Are All Wrong...Every Single One of Them...

Top of the evening folks.

Over the years, we have all been had to contend with whether we believe in Creation or Evolution. Of late, I think that I hold by Evolution. The reason is simple. Look at the level of political discourse that we have all been blessed to witness over the last several months. The only word that comes to mind devolution. If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, devolution must mean Evolution.

Why do I call it devolution? Because we are unable to see the humanity in those who would disagree with us. Rather than accept that those who are pro-abortion at any point in a pregnancy have real concerns about the health of a mother, we hear that women are being denied reproductive freedom. Rather than accept that those who are against all abortion have genuine concerns about all life, including the mother and including life that has not yet seen the light of day, we hear that we are back in medieval times.

They are all wrong...every single one of them.

Why are they all wrong? They are all wrong because when we go to the extremes, when we talk about abortion in those latter months, we must realize that those abortions are 1.5% of the total number of abortions. I am going to put a thought out there to ponder. If such abortions, those that take place in the last trimester, are such a tiny number, it stands to reason that the mothers (and the fathers) are not being cavalier about it. This is a tragedy. This does not end with dinner and dancing to celebrate. This ends with tears, heartbreak, and shattered dreams. Those on the right need to realize that anyone who carries a pregnancy that far is most likely committed to that pregnancy. Something serious got in the way. Those on the left need to realize that the word 'choice' dehumanizes everyone. That fetus is not a choice. It is a potential life, or maybe even a life. It is not a coin toss.

So I have an interesting idea. Let's leave those late-term abortions out of the discussion. Abortions in the third trimester must be legal. Given that they are so rare, and given that such abortions are probably never simple decisions, I see little point in building a law around such extremities. Instead, let us come together and help a family through this, if by no other means then letting that family know that they will not become a cudgel for one side or the other. Let us help a grieving family while holding a hand and crying with them. Surely we can all do that.

Where the grey areas in the law might be found is in those first six months. I do not have the answers here. But I am willing to listen to people who might disagree with me. Maybe we can all learn from each other.

Go to sleep.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Political Temper Tantrums...

Good evening to all.

I have just about reached my wit's end. I have also hesitated to write this blog entry. I have every expectation of receiving some sharply-worded responses to it.

What is on my mind this evening? On my mind this evening is the political temper tantrum emanating from Capitol Hill in the United States. This will be a difficult blog entry to write. The reason is that it could lead one to the conclusion that I either like or dislike certain people in Washington DC. While that is in fact the case, my politics are not the question here. I will continue to keep those thoughts personal.

For the record, President Obama got the following things right during his time in office:

1. He wore the office with dignity.
2. He made health care an indelible part of the national discourse.
3. Israel was a far stronger nation during after his tenure than it was before. While he made some serious mistakes in this regard, he got a great deal right also.

For the record, President Trump has thus far gotten the following right during his tenure:

1. The Koreas are talking to each other.
2. While clumsily, he is forcing a national conversation on how to handle borders.
3. ISIS no longer controls territory.

If you are unable to point to three things that either president got right, then you are frankly reacting with only emotion. Neither President Obama nor President Trump got everything wrong.

For the record, those who voted for Secretary Clinton were concerned about the following:

1. Environment and climate change.
2. Abortion rights.
3. Gun control.

For the record, those who voted for President Trump were concerned about the following:

1. Overextending abortion rights.
2. Their jobs.
3. Lower taxes.

You may agree or disagree with the concerns expressed by either side. If you are unwilling to consider those concerns as valid, it is no longer about POTUS. It is an utter lack of sensitivity to the concerns of others.

To the points at hand...

I am at a loss as to why the House wants the President's tax returns. Absent some compelling legislative issue, it seems out of their jurisdiction. Becoming the President does not mean that personal and business privacy are suddenly forfeit.

Bob Mueller concluded emphatically that there was no collusion. With a report that is less than 1% redacted, the House needs to let it go. It is illegal for the AG to put people who are named in the report and not guilty of anything in any sort of legal or personal jeopardy.

The President is responsible for the violence in San Diego. Really? Does this mean that President Obama was responsible for the shooting in Orlando or at Fort Hood? President Trump was not yet on the political map.

The Democrats seem to be after the President for anything they can conjure. Whether that statement is true is irrelevant. It is my perception, and very possibly the perception of others. It seems petulant. I want nothing to do with it. If this is all that they have to throw at the President, the Democrats may well find themselves losing big and ugly come 2020. I for one have no wish for their political temper tantrum to continue.

Good night everyone.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Bleeding Hearts...

Good afternoon to all...

In the comments section of my last blog entry, someone asked if I intended to condemn the shooting in New Zealand, or if my compassion extended only as far as the Jewish community.

With respect, here is my answer.

The shooting in New Zealand happened very close to Shabbat. The result of that is that I spoke about it from the bimah without notes. If there is concern about my lack of words here in the blog, please check with my congregants who were there last Shabbat morning. Unlike Pittsburgh, when there was a week to prepare a sermon, this was very short notice. That there is nothing written does not mean there is nothing said.

Furthermore, I imagine that the prayer rugs in the mosques were damaged. With that concern in mind, Rav Jen and I ordered two prayer rugs to be sent to one of the mosques in New Zealand. At my urging, my congregation sent two more to the other mosque that was attacked. This was a three-day endeavour that involved late hours due to the time differences.

On Friday, I will be part of a group of people standing outside a mosque up Jane St near King City. Sadly, we have all come to learn about what is called a Ring of Peace. The Muslim community in Oslo formed one outside the main synagogue back in 2015 after a synagogue shooting in Copenhagen. Since then, the Jewish community did the same after the Quebec City shooting (and I took part). The Muslim community did the same for us after Pittsburgh. We do this to make the statement that the right to pray in peace is also a community obligation to make sure that we can in fact all do that. Please contact me at my office e-mail if you would like to join in.

The above two paragraphs are not in my blog simply because it feels like bragging.

So to the person who asked the question, no, my compassion is not limited. As well, and with great respect, we have also seen entirely too many times over the last couple of years in which newspapers have had to retract stories for failure to check all of the relevant facts. I am not perfect. No one is. Please ask first what I have done or failed to do before it becomes necessary to walk back comments.

Wishing everyone a Simchat Purim.


Monday, March 4, 2019

"Because it's 2015!"

Good evening everyone.

I have mentioned several times in this blog that my medium child once asked me if our senses grow dull as we age. I said that they do, with the exception of my sense of irony, which seems to grow more acute every day.

Speaking of irony, we are witness this week to a great deal of it. In November 2015, newly-minted PM Justin Trudeau introduced his cabinet. He made a point of noting that the cabinet was 50/50 men and women. When asked about it, his response was "because it's 2015."

It is a worthwhile debate as to whether a cabinet should be an equal split. One can make the case that it is the right way to do it, as women should be equally represented in government. One can make the case that gender is irrelevant. The most qualified people should be in government. They are responsible for the lives of millions. One can make the case that to be truly representative, there should be more women, as there is a slightly larger proportion of women in society.

Mr. Trudeau has brandished his feminist leanings and ideology on more than one occasion. This stance makes the spectacle taking place on Parliament Hill sadly ironic to watch. His government is in the middle of a major scandal right now. This scandal is connected to some questionable behaviour on the part of a large company with its headquarters in Quebec. The questionable behaviour became a legal case. The Justice Minister/Attorney General refused to yield to the Prime Minister's pressure on it. She resigned from the cabinet. The former AG testified on Parliament Hill last week, she was devastatingly brilliant and articulate.

Today, another woman resigned from his cabinet.

Irony....the ardently feminist PM is in charge of a government very much in turmoil due to two of the women in his cabinet calling his behaviour into question.

It is sad, but gosh the irony is rich.

Have a good evening.


Monday, February 4, 2019

Unpopular Me....

Top of the evening everyone.....

Over the last week, we have been privileged to see the APA's Practice Guidelines for Boys and Men.  These are from August, 2018.  The point is to guide psychologists in their practice for male patients.

Please note that I might not be so popular after writing what I am about to write.

I have glanced through the practice guidelines.  We can all see what is there.  Let us explore what is not there.

1.  The guidelines raise concerns about language.  Below is a quotation: 

"Normative male interpersonal behavior can, but does not always, involve an absence of strong affect, muted emotional displays, and minimal use of expressive language, making it difficult for primary care physicians and other health professionals to determine when men are actually experiencing depressive disorders."

I want to focus on expressive language.  When my kids were babies, I was often out with them in the stroller.  If nothing else, my kids heard a running narrative about where we were, what direction we were pointed, the bus going by, or whatever else was happening.  There was no way that there would have been a phone in my hand, with me reading the news or texting away.  Babies are alone with their parents these days.  How is it possible to develop expressive language when no one talks to you at the time you are supposed to learn language?  Why do the Guidelines not mention this?

2.  As long as we are dealing with language, the development of text-speak cannot be helpful.  UR GR8 (you are great) is not actual language.  

3.  The Guidelines mention nothing about social media.  Social media is a danger zone for cyber-bullying, both as a victim and as a perpetrator.  

4.  My iPad is kind enough to tell me how much screen time I take each week.  Screen time is an issue.  From Psychology Today:

"as a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention—"  

For the Guidelines to mention ADHD and fail to mention screen time neglects a known cause of the issue presented. 

5.  Yahoo reports that in 2018, 50% of Canadian web searches were for pornography.  The following is from Guideline #3:

Thus, male privilege often comes with a cost in the form of adherence to sexist ideologies designed to maintain male power that also restrict men’s ability to function adaptively.

If half of Canadian web searches are connected to porn, and if porn is related to power, why does pornography not receive any attention in the Guidelines from the APA?

*And on an aside, it is highly unlikely that only men searched for pornography.

6.  We must also consider that the issues might not be connected only to how men define masculinity.  It might be connected to women as well?  Really?  Well....let us examine some titles of articles.  "9 Steamy Shower Sex Positions that Actually Work," "13 Stupidly-Satisfying Things All Women Want in Bed," "5 Wild Sex Positions to Spice Up Even the Most Boring Bedroom" - these three articles are a small sampling of the titles in Cosmopolitan, a magazine that labels itself as "the best-selling young women's magazine in the U.S., a bible for fun, fearless females that reaches more than 17 million readers a month."  It is always at the supermarket checkout.  There is always an article about "ways to blow his mind" or something like that on the front cover of every edition.  GQ, a magazine for men, has nothing like this.  With due respect to all, it is simply not possible for men to see Cosmo time and again and not be affected by it.  It should be impossible for the APA to consider how men view sex without considering how a popular women's magazine portrays it.  I would likely have little problem with my sons reading GQ, certainly in its current form.  There is something in every edition of Cosmo that I do not want my sons or my daughter to see, and it is usually on the cover.

Most of what I have written also affects women.  The APA is remarkably disingenuous and sexist to both men and women in putting out these guidelines, stating that they will be updated in 10 years, but not doing the same for women.  The guidelines for women are now 12 years old.  They were supposed to expire in 2015.  Where are the new guidelines?

My friends, it is possible that men have all matter of problems.  For the APA to put these Guidelines and to lead practitioners away from some crucial concepts that have an impact on much of what is presented therein is not a recipe for therapeutic success.

Have a good evening.


Monday, November 12, 2018

Could It Be?????

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with personal unction that my politics have shifted to the right over the years.  Part of the reason for that has been the increased anti-Semitism I feel growing on the left, as well as the embracing of some of that anti-Semitism either by openly accepting it, or at least by failure to condemn.

My unease is not going away anytime soon.

Nonetheless, it is important to note when those who are associated with the left put their foot down.  In that regard, it is incumbent to point out that over the last week, actresses Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing have both publicly stated that they will have nothing further to do with the Women's March until a full-throated condemnation of Louis Farrakhan is stated from the leadership.  Good for them.

They should probably not hold their breath.

It is important to give praise where it is due.  Thank you to Ms. Milano and to Ms. Messing for speaking out not only against what they perceive as the excesses of the right (whether or not I agree is irrelevant), but also to the excesses of the left.

Have a good day everyone.


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sermonic Response to Pittsburgh...

Good afternoon everyone....

I am away from my congregation right now.  I wrote this sermon in response to the attack in Pittsburgh.  My ritual director delivered it on my behalf.  For those of you who were not in shul this past Shabbat, here is the sermon.


            Friends, I am away this Shabbat.  I wish that I were not.  I would like to be standing in front of you, sharing the impact of what happened last Shabbat in Pittsburgh with you.  I have asked Larry to share my thoughts with you.  He has graciously agreed.

            You are familiar with this by now.  When one of these attacks happens, I start my sermons with a list of attacks.  I will do so again now.  York, 1190. Expulsion from Spain...1492. Hevron, 1929.  Kristallnacht, Babi Yar, Warsaw, Nehariyah, Toulouse, the Hyper-Cachere in Paris, and now, Pittsburgh.  I would love to be able to say that we should be surprised. However, the long chain of Jewish history sadly says only that we have only been witness to another chapter.

            We are all familiar with Mr. Rogers' famous statement - "look for the helpers."  As this attack took place in Mr. Rogers' neighbourhood - he lived in Squirrel Hill, we should look to those words.  Why should we look for the helpers?  It is not to cast aside our own responsibility.  Not at all.  Rather, looking for them reminds us that despite the fact that evil happens, the helpers, those who will not accept such evil, are there.  They are there, and they are the clear majority.  And no, they do not accept such evil.

            Let us look at both the helpers and at those who do not accept such evil.  We take note of the Pittsburgh police chief, who was holding back tears as he reported on what happened.  And we take note of his policemen, who were injured in the line of duty trying to protect the congregation.  We take note of thousands of people in Pittsburgh, here in Toronto, and in many places beyond, who made makeshift memorials at the scene, who stood side by side with their Jewish neighbours at countless vigils and said "no!  You are part of our community.  You are our neighbours.  You are our friends."  

            The shul's MP, Ali Ehsassi, delivered a note and a small gift for the shul this week.  His note says that our community has no place for hate.  MP Blair and Premier Ford spoke to the Jewish community on Monday at Toronto's vigil.  This was not about the vote.  This was about human decency, and we have seen far more of that than the violence that the shooter was able to muster.

            Many doctors take the Hippocratic oath upon graduation.  Jewish doctors do not.  They take the Oath of Maimonides, which says "may I never see in the patient anything other than a fellow creature in pain."  We take note then of Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, who led the medical team that treated the shooter.  "He is some mother's son...My job is to care for him."  All Dr. Cohen saw was a fellow creature in pain.  The hate that drove the shooter has no place in the Jewish community, and Dr. Cohen made sure of that.  

            And now we come back home.  You, my friends, in our home, have joined thousands of our fellow Jews everywhere doing what now carries significance far beyond the simple act of going to shul.  Your presence here today is an emphatic statement that we will not be cowered. We will not cease walking into our shuls.  We will not allow those who wish to chase Jews away from their synagogues to succeed. This is our home.  We claim it.  We will never be scared in our home, and we will most certainly not be chased from it.  

            At the beginning of our parashah this week, we learn of the death of Sarah.  As we draw towards the end, we learn about the marriage of Yitzchak and Rivkah. Rashi brings an absolutely lovely piece of Midrash on this text.  He writes: 

שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁשָּׂרָה קַיֶּמֶת הָיָה נֵר דָּלוּק מֵעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת לְעֶרֶב שַׁבָּת וּבְרָכָה מְצוּיָה בָּעִסָּה וְעָנָן קָשׁוּר עַל הָאֹהֶל, וּמִשֶּׁמֵּתָה פָּסְקוּ, וּכְשֶׁבָּאת רִבְקָה חָזְרוּ

            When Sarah was alive, there was a candle that burned from Shabbat to Shabbat, blessing was found in the bread, and a divine cloud hovered over the tent.  When she died, that ceased, and when Rivkah came, it all returned.

            And we look.  Someone tried to snuff out that candle.  For 11 Jews, he succeeded.  But when we look and see the outpouring of grief from the entire world, when we see those who rush towards gunfire, when we see a police chief hold back tears, when we see a doctor give vivid testimony to his oath, when we see makeshift memorials, when we see vigils, the light of what is good and proper in the world is relit, and will burn from Shabbat to Shabbat ever more brightly. And when we see all of the response, truly that divine cloud continues to hover over us.