Archive by category "Musings"

Déjà Vu: The Public Propagation of Hatred

Déjà Vu: The Public Propagation of Hatred

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

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Like most of our American population, I thoroughly enjoy the internet and the educational and entertainment enrichment and communication possibilities the media in general adds to my life. But, as so many people are already aware, there is an essential caveat: the widespread dissemination of supposed truths that are actually untruths – in other words, lies. Currently, especially in our political life, we have also seen the damage that the reverse side of the coin – undermining proven facts and calling them “fake” to suit a particular, usually nefarious, agenda – can do.

This caveat also applies to the all too often malevolent representation of the Talmud on the web. As I have commented in previous posts, the Talmud represents an accumulation of wisdom. Each singular remark captures only one rabbinic opinion on the subject under discussion. The expression of many other opinions (over a number of centuries) follow on each talmudic page, and, in most cases, these differing opinions are reconciled to produce a majority view. Popular wisdom is also taken into account. Sometimes a conclusion cannot be reached, and the subject under discussion is tabled peaceably for another time.

So to cite a single negative position in a published post, article, or sound byte does not represent the whole conversation, is likely to distort it, and may indicate malicious intentions on the part of the person or organization that posted it. Unfortunately, anti-Semitic websites which quote a variety of out-of-context Talmudic statements proliferate on the internet. Their usual intent is to incite hatred of the Jewish people (even if appreciation of Jewish lawyers or doctors or occasional friends is expressed).

Here we come to the heart of the matter: statements taken out of context that are deliberately used by individuals or groups to malign people and cause them pain, and, even worse, to incite hatred against religious and/or ethnic groups. The Talmud refers to this deceitful misuse of speech as a category of what in Hebrew is called ona’at devarim, the pain that words can inflict.

The Talmud makes clear that just as there is ona’ah in monetary matters (i.e., willful deceit, fraudulent business dealings), there is also ona’ah in words, when the intention or effect is to inflict pain. Even if we have spoken these words with good intentions, we should be mindful of hurting others by what we say.

For example, we should not add pain with our words to people whom tragedy has befallen, who are suffering illness, or by implying that God does not allow innocent people to come to harm, and in general, behaving like Job’s so-called friends (who pointed out his failings when he was down). As my revered mentor, Rabbi Elijah J. Schochet, cautioned (referencing the medieval scholar, Rashi), since no one except God can know your thoughts, “be mindful of the one who hears your thoughts.” Causing people anguish through disrespect is considered disrespect for God (who, after all, was our Creator).

In fact, shaming someone in public is considered so serious in the Talmud that the perpetrator or group of perpetrators — will have no share in the World-to-Come (the after-life). Shaming someone publicly – whitening that person’s face (that is, draining it of blood, deadening the spirit) — is compared with murder — you have murdered someone’s reputation, and it is often irreparable. Public humiliation of someone (even calling someone a bad name in public) is so sinful in the extreme, so offensive to God, that it is better, the Talmud declares, to cast yourself into a fiery furnace than to shame someone in public (Baba Metzi’a 59)! As the U.S. moves into the 2018 mid-term election, our politicians – and those who support them — should remember that.

Even the biblical Tamar, who was impregnated by Judah and brought forth on his orders to be burned, did not shame him in public. Instead she sent him the signs that identified him as the culprit, and, in remorse, he saved her from her fiery fate. Our electronic media and print press would do well to use restraint, as Tamar did, when they excoriate people in public office.

We certainly get the Talmudic point that ona’at devarim, causing people anguish with words, is a very important issue; that is, it is important not to do it. The Talmud does reflect, though, that sometimes external events provoke disharmony. Difficult economic times, for instance (can cause strife in a household, and husbands (in 2018, it would also be working wives) are enjoined to make sure there is food in the house. As the incomes of middle class and lower income families are presently poised to take a big hit through increased taxes and deliberately inflated medical costs, our governing bodies would do well to enact something positive – big league — to ameliorate this inequity.


©️Corinne Copnick, 2017, Los Angeles. All rights reserved.


Chaya the Shoichet


Chaya the Shoichet [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

I never meant to choose a dog like Chaya. When I first saw her early in the morning, she was still grieving, a long-haired vision of Arctic beauty. A Samoyed husky. I stroked her white, silky hair and talked to her gently. I told her in soft tones how much I needed someone to love. The day went by without even the faintest acknowledgement of my repeated overtures. Several times I walked away, but each time returned.

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It was actually an event outside myself that propelled me to seek a dog. I not only needed a companion, I needed a protector; for an ugly episode had taken place in my very own driveway. The sanctity of my comfortable white stucco and terracotta home was violated by a crude, little note, hand-lettered carefully on yellow, lined, foolscap paper:

“This is for the animals who died to make your mink coat.”

The four tires of my car had been irreparably slashed. With malice aforethought. Right in my driveway. The nasty note had been placed under the rear wheel of my car. “Maybe you should get a dog,” the young, blue-eyed policeman had said.

So when I went down to the Humane Society, it was with determination. “Doggie,” I persuaded, as I returned to the cage for the sixth time. “It’s the middle of the afternoon. Open your eyes. I am here.”

This time she responded to my voice, looked at me with her beguiling, velvety-black eyes. Delicately, she licked the tips of my fingers, extended towards her through the cage wires.

That did it! She was everything that was wrong for me, but the moment she kissed my hand, we were a match. It was love at first sight.

I had wanted a sizeable dog that looked fierce, not a pile of black and white fluff, a dog who would ward off would-be assailants with a loud bark. But when I saw Chaya, in her silky-haired mourning attire in the shelter’s cage, it was instant identification. Her name, “Chaya,” was tacked to the front of the cage. She had lost her family. When Chaya was eight years old, her mistress had a baby, and Chaya grew jealous of the baby. It was a choice between the dog or the baby.

So there she lay, mortified, the most beautiful dog in the world, locked in a cage at the Humane Society. “Eight years old,” I pondered. A dog’s age is calculated at about seven dog years for every year of human life. She was younger than me. It was doubtful she would find another home.

“She’s a wonderful dog,” the attendant said. “Well trained. She just got jealous. She’s even been trained not to bark.”

When the attendant told me she had a bit of arthritis in her back legs, I knew that despite the fact she didn’t meet most of my requirements, she was made for me. So what if she looked like a marshmallow, not a fierce protector! So what is she didn’t bark? It was bechert! Destiny!

“We’ll watch our diets and exercise together,” I mused. “Did you come from a kosher home?” I inquired directly into Chaya’s ear. Her eyes remained closed, but Chaya’s graceful upswept Samoyed tail showed the hint of a wag.

“Chaya,” I sweet-talked the dog, “my Jewish name is just like yours. Chaya. Animal. We have the same name.” Did I imagine that the dog’s ears perked up for the first time. “Chayele,” I coaxed, using the Yiddish diminutive. “Little animal, I love you.”

It was at that moment Chaya opened her eyes and kissed my hand. She knew she was loved. She knew she was mine. She had found a good Jewish home.

* * * *

I took Chaya everywhere. To the post office, the drug store, the shoe store, and to my aunt’s for dinner. She had tidbits under the table and shared my morning toast with me.  At the corner bakery, they gave he “pareve” cookies while she waited outside. Everywhere people petted her. I even took her with me to the hairdresser. They brushed her silky hair, too. Chaya loved going to the hairdresser.

So when a friend invited me to attend an exhibit at a native art gallery, it seemed only natural to take Chaya, too. The art gallery was located at the edge of a First Nations Reserve in the Ontario countryside in Canada. The art work shown there was the creation of indigenous artists. One of the artists, a petite, round-faced quilt-maker of some international renown, invited the charming friend who had introduced me to the gallery and myself to dinner.

They had known one another for a long time. Little animal was welcome, too. In the rugged expanse of rural wilderness that framed the reserve, Little Animal was soon to become Wild Animal. Vilde Chaya, as it is called in Yiddish.

The country lake was the first thing to evoke Chaya’s primitive inner voice. She was part husky, after all. She dove into the water in the late day, just as the sun was beginning to dip itself into the lake. Little Animal swam as if the lake and sun and trees belonged to her. She shook her fur when she emerged and frisked happily with the large dog belonging to our native hosts.

“City dog?” one of our native hosts asked, raising a skeptical, busy eyebrow. He was the quilt-maker’s husband and wore a leather, fringed jacket. “I don’t think so. Country dog,” he pronounced.

My friend, an environmental consultant by profession, smiled at me. He was at home in these surroundings. His white mustache quivered with pleasure.

I smiled back. “Like your people and mine,” I answered our host, “Chaya has a long history.”

Then we happily sat down with ten or more First Nations people at long, rough wood tables for a barbecue. The pickerel cooked over an open fire and the roasted potatoes smelled delicious. Green beans from the garden adorned the salad. But in this ecological heaven, we ate on paper plates with plastic forks and knives, and drank from paper cups.

“L’chaim,” I offered a toast over the bush tea, strong-brewed over the fire. In response, they taught me some words in Ojibway, almost a lost language.

As home-baked apple and blueberry pies were brought to the table, one of the native men laughed happily. “Whenever we had dessert, my Mama always said, “Just turn over the plates, kids, and eat on the other side.” Everyone giggled and turned their paper plates upside down to receive the slices of pie.

I looked at my food-stained plate squeamishly. “I don’t eat dessert,” I excused myself. “Do you want a little piece of pie, Chaya?” I reached under the table to give my slice to the dog. Chaya had taken her place under the table as the meal began, her nose close to my feet, so I could slip her little tid-bits from time to time. This time there was no receiving, moist dog tongue. Chaya wasn’t there. During all the merriment, she had slipped away.

Hurriedly, I began to look for her. Here, in this country setting, amongst aboriginal people with a past so closely connected to the land, had my eight-year-old, Jewish husky responded to some primeval urge and returned to the wilderness?

* * * *

“Chaya,” I cupped my fingers to my mouth to enlarge the sound. “Chayele,” I called. “Where are you? This is your Jewish mother asking. “Come back.”

I remembered how my grandmother used to tie a horsehair ring around her finger to keep away the evil eye. In these strange surroundings, had an evil spirit overtaken my Chaya? Would I ever see her again? I wished that I had a horsehair ring or a five-fingered hand on a little gold chain around my neck, or an Indian dream catcher, or…at least I was wearing my Mogen Dovid (Jewish star).

Just then I caught a glimpse of her white tail soaring in the air amidst the tall grass. She hadn’t run far away at all. There she was in a fenced enclosure behind the large, rambling house. “Oh,” I sighed in relief, “she must have leaped over the fence or burrowed under it. Then the moment of relief ended as I saw what was at the front of Chaya’s tail.

A chicken. Chaya had it in her mouth.

As I screamed, “No, no, not the chicken, in one fell swoop Chaya became a shoichet (a ritual slaughterer who koshers the meat). She had slaughtered the chicken.

Shaking the dog by her collar, I made her drop the chicken, uneaten, but it was too late. The chicken was dead.

The banqueting natives heard  my screams, and all ten came running. “Are you all right? Are you all right?” They gathered around me protectively, and then suddenly there was silence. Everyone stared at the chicken lying on the ground.

“I’m awfully sorry,” I said unhappily, “but my dog has slaughtered one of your chickens. I’ll replace it.”

“Oh no,” my native hostess gasped. Her quilter’s hands flew to clasp her round cheeks. “I hope it isn’t Goldie. Oh, I bet it’s Goldie. I forgot that she was loose. I forgot to put her back in the hen house.” Now the hands clutched her bosom as if in prayer, as she moved forward to identify the chicken.

“Goldie,” her husband cried in dismay, bending down to look at the chicken. His bushy brows knitted together. “Goldie is…was out pet. Most chickens only live for three or four years, but Goldie was ten years old.” He looked away, his eyes almost, but not quite, misting over. “I guess it’s dumb to have a chicken for a pet.”

“I guess your Goldie is irreplaceable,” I rejoined sadly. “Oh Chaya,” I thought. “We have spoiled such a nice invitation. At that moment, I felt like…Christopher Columbus, as he has been portrayed in recent ties. I felt like all the other exploiters of aboriginal people. We had come, my white city dog and I, in presumed good will to their welcoming feast, and we had destroyed their animal.

At least not with malice aforethought. At least not like the kind of people who intentionally slash tires. At least….

“Next time I’ll call and say the whites are coming,” I made a bad joke. Nobody laughed.

“Come with me,” I snapped to my dog the Assassin, and I tied her to the lef of one of the wooden banquet tables. And now Chaya, the gentle dog who never barked, found her voice. She barked and whined and whimpered.

“Be quiet,” I commanded. In response, she howled non-stop like a timber wolf. “Aah-ooooh!” Or an Arctic husky reclaiming her land. Until finally, we prepared to take our leave.

“I hope you will invite me again,” I ventured. Chaya, now sweetly on her lead ready to go home to the wilds of suburban Toronto, wagged her tail. My friend, the environmentalist, gave me a hug.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s just a chicken,” they all assured me sadly. Everybody looked at Goldie still lying on the ground. Then my host gathered up Goldie’s remains and brought them to the kitchen. He put them on the wood block beside the stove. He was a practical man. Goldie would soon be ten-year-old chicken soup.

I picked up my forgotten cup of bush tea in the paper cup and made a parting toast. “L’chaim, Goldie. To life! May your spirit sleep in protected bays.”


[1] A shoichet is a ritual slaughterer who kills animals humanely. I first narrated this story to a large assemblage of Jewish performing artists and writers in Toronto and have told it many times since.

©️Corinne Copnick, Toronto, 1990; Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.


An Immodest Proposal: A Satire for Our Time


An Immodest Proposal: A Satire for Our Time

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Most literate people in the English-speaking world have heard of Jonathan Swift, a 19th century satirist of considerable stature, perhaps best known as the author of Gulliver’s Travels. Swift was also infamous for creating a furor in his time: He suggested to the English (long perceived in Ireland as oppressors) that the famine in Ireland was so severe that the Irish, it was said, were eating grass because no potatoes could be found on the Emerald Isle. Swift’s satirical essay, A Modest Proposal, advised the Irish of an alternative: the various ways their children could be prepared for eating – roasting, for example. This gustatory procedure would at once alleviate the hunger of the Irish and reduce a major contributor to poverty, excessive procreation. Swift’s politically incorrect satire was received with outrage, but it did serve his purpose of drawing world attention to the extreme poverty and associated hardship the Irish were experiencing.

Today, almost two decades into the 21st century, doctors and patients and those in power alike – all agree that the U.S. health system is in urgent need of repair, but few are agreed on how to fix it. Of course, politicians and armchair critics make proposals all the time, many of them politically incorrect. Hopefully we have progressed in compassion and concern since the 19th century.

Therefore, as an aging person born in Canada (a country that has a national universal healthcare system) and now also a U.S. citizen, I am taking a lesson from Jonathan Swift. So I am offering a totally immodest, politically incorrect proposal: It’s time to think out of the box, right? It’s time to alleviate the healthcare dilemma currently faced by the growing demographic of elderly people in America.  

My immodest (satirical, of course!) proposal is two-pronged. It is not only aimed at helping the elderly, but it will also resolve the embarrassing problem the U.S. is facing with millions of undocumented, mainly Hispanic, workers on its hands. Most are from Mexico, but reportedly that stream has recently slowed, while others fleeing from persecution or untenable situations in diverse, war-torn countries continue to seek refuge in the U.S. In any case, by one means or another, many would-be immigrants have crossed the border illegally and remain in the U.S., where they work fearfully “under the table” in a shadow world.

This situation is complicated by the “Dreamers,” brought to this country by their parents as children and raised and educated in America. This is the country they know and love. Most are wonderful young people who can potentially contribute a great deal to the U.S. It seems heartless, cruel in fact, to force them to leave, to abandon their dreams of elevating themselves and their families.

My simple solution – a give-and-take population transfer — could help our healthcare system and our immigration headache at the same time. Population transfer, you suggest? It sounds awful. How does it work?

How it works:

By giving de facto recognition to the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here. By letting them stay here with conditional visas, and with the goal of eventually becoming citizens who pay taxes and thus easing the burden on our health system. In return, a population transfer will be arranged of equivalent millions of our most elderly and infirm citizens — who are also a burden that our health system is presently ill equipped to carry.

People are living longer and longer, that’s wonderful. But how are we supposed to care for “seniors” in their eighties, nineties, and more — especially as the baby boomers have already entered the crowded territory of the aging, if not yet the aged?  My proposal suggests that, instead of warehousing people who are living too long in crowded nursing homes, why not transport them to the sunny climes of Mexico, where they can be treated by the excellent medical expertise and far less expensive drugs of the Mexican health system. This population transfer is really an innovative kind of tourism!

Preposterous, you say? Where will a poor country like Mexico find the financial resources to build hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and therapeutic resources for the elderly and infirm?

Unnecessary to worry about it, I say! There is indeed a financial solution if we put on our collective thinking caps. Yes, this proposal should be very attractive financially to the drug cartels. This is an excellent way to improve their public image and to show they are really good corporate citizens. They can even throw plenty of pain-relieving marijuana and even cocaine and other drugs into the mix – for medicinal purposes, of course. What a great opportunity to launder drug money earned internationally in a way that will help U.S. society! No need to use foreign banks or dubious real estate projects.

Additionally, relatives will be much happier to visit the elderly in healthcare spots like Rosario Beach (decorated in celebratory Mexican colors) rather than in the depressing environments of nursing homes. This elderly population can be transported to open air locales renowned as pleasant spots to visit. Think of Cabo San Lucas, Puerta Vallarta, Acapulco. Or on the east coast, Cancun, Cozumel. Who wouldn’t want to live in these beautiful spaces so close to nature?

Tended by caring Mexican doctors and nurses, our elderly can experience the healing air and nutrients brought by the caressing waves of the sea. They can expose their arthritic limbs and aching joints to the warm climate and consume health-giving veggies like chopped cactus with onions and seaweed, along with a steady diet of seafood (known to be healthier than red meat and easier on cholesterol levels). All this totally at the cost of the Mexican government (instead of a wall at the border) via some of its most maligned citizens. Of course, relatives will be much happier to visit the elderly in health spots like Puerta Vallarta or Cozumel rather than in the depressing environments of nursing homes. Mexico is a great place to have a face lift and other cosmetic enhancements while they visit.

And since the elderly population is known to have a high rate of attrition as their life spans come to an end (hopefully from natural causes in this health-giving atmosphere), the worrisome high cost of funerals can also be alleviated. No cemetery plots or tack-on charges are involved. No cremating of dear ones and scattering of ashes. Shrouded, deceased residents of these beach communities will simply be placed reverently at the edge of the sea to be swept away by the tide, thereby enriching the ocean and its inhabitants with the useful nutrients of the human body.

Naturally, suitable accompanying ritual ceremonies will be created to mark their passing. I envision a North America-wide (Canada, the U.S., and Mexico are all part of North America) competition among our literary and musical artists for the finest compositions designed to accompany our human vessels to the receptive depths of the ocean, a case of God’s creatures returning to nature’s comforting arms.

Also, since recent polls show that people respond to change best in slow increments, perhaps the elderly could first be introduced to the concept of population transfer with assistance from our marketing community. Flashy brochures will feature free, three-day inspection trips with all-you-can-eat buffets. Casinos (again courtesy of organized crime) that accept U.S. credit cards will line locales like Rosario Beach at one-mile intervals so that the elderly don’t have to travel too far in the free beach carts. Plenty of nickel slot machines will be available. It will be fun, fun, fun (just like Las Vegas) to be transported to a beach-healthcare community in Mexico.

I am the first to admit that this proposal is in its initial stages and may have to be tweaked a little by Congress. However, at least it does not propose that we eat our elderly and infirm.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.




Continuity [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick



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Beyond the simple repetitive cycle

are thematic mutations

uniquely conceived to alter slightly

familiar stains and hues,


color the vacuum with multi-dyed pattern,

limited edition found on faith

and acid-etched on a limestone block,

each reprint adding new

dimensions to the composite

before it is sanded down, re-used,

a statement washed away.


A single lithograph, preserved,

brightens walls where my children

grease pencil personal

drawings, blueprinting continuity

for the next generation.


[1] This poem first appeared in Corinne Copnick Spiegel, Etreinte/Embrace: Une poeme d’amour/A Love Story in Poetry (Montreal: Editions Guy Maheux, 1981), a limited edition of 36 bilingual (English/French) poems that can be found occasionally in rare book stores.


©️Corinne Copnick, Montreal, 1981; Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.


Hannah’s Teshuva

Hannah’s Teshuva [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick


“One only loves God with the knowledge with which one knows him.

According to the knowledge will be the love.”  

Moses Maimonides [2]


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During the Holocaust, Rabbi Ephraim Oshry – known to be a deeply compassionate scholar of Jewish law — was considered the spiritual leader of the Kovno ghetto. In this role, he tried to help the members of this community, subjected to horrific conditions, to maintain a semblance of Jewish life. He endeavored to answer many difficult questions of Jewish law for the troubled ghetto Jews. Oshry’s genius was his creative ability to find a way to say “yes” instead of a blanket “no.”

But this is not a story about Rabbi Oshry’s genius. It is the story of my friend, Hannah (not her real name), who was still bedeviled by her Jewish identity at the late age of 82. Like the many people who wrote to Rabbi Oshry during and after WWII, individuals trying their best to live up to the standards of Jewish law – to remain good human beings in the eyes of God despite their behavior in appalling circumstances – I am asking a question on behalf of Hannah’s soul as, unknowingly, she prepares to meet her Maker.

Hannah was spared the horrors of Hitler’s Germany by the actions of her father in gaining a Christian identity, intended to protect her from anticipated harm. Yet caught in a web of ambivalence, she was not spared the suffering of her soul. So here is the question (the she’ela) – the many questions, in fact – that, as a rabbi, I am asking for her because she cannot ask them for herself. Perhaps there is no answer.

The Questions:  

Can someone born into Judaism, but forced into Catholicism from early teenage by parents anxious to protect her, return to Judaism on a part-time basis? Can she move back and forth between the two religions – and their two communities – and still be considered a Jew? Can she still be a Jew if she marries a Catholic and brings up her children as Catholics – even though she is no longer a practicing Catholic herself? Is she a Jew or a Christian if she is involved in leadership positions in the Jewish community? Is she a Jew or a Christian if she reverts to Catholicism for fear of losing her soul and going to eternal hell fire as the approach of the end of life draws near?

The Back Story:

Hannah was born into a wealthy educated, and cultured Jewish family in Holland (her father was a diamond dealer). She remembered that they lived as Jews and had Jewish friends. But as Hitler came to power in Germany and began to make aggressive moves against the Jewish communities, her father realized that the Dutch Jews would soon be in danger in Holland (where there were already rumblings against the Jews), and he began to make plans to protect his family. Since his livelihood was a portable one, he took his wife and three young daughters to Paris, where, far from their usual associations, they submerged themselves in a secular world.

They hurriedly studied French while he made the necessary arrangements to take them to Montreal in Quebec, Canada, but both parents were aware that they still counted as Jews (even if they claimed they were secular), rapidly being characterized by Nazi elements as the vermin of Europe.

It was toward the end of 1938 when they finally arrived in Montreal. As the news from Europe grew worse (Canada entered the war in 1939, well before the U.S. did), Hannah’s father quickly took his three daughters to a convent with beautiful facilities and excellent educational reputation in Montreal. At the time, neither this city’s Catholic majority nor its Anglo minority could be considered fond of Jews, but although slurs against Jews certainly occurred on the part of individuals in this time of economic depression, there was no official anti-Semitism, as there was in many parts of Europe. Hannah’s father instructed the nuns to educate his blonde, blue-eyed girls as Catholics. In the event that Hitler’s reach would (God forbid!) extend to Canada, he made a gift of a considerable sum of money to the convent. “If anything happens, protect my children,” he said.

That is how it happened that Hannah, born a Jew, was educated to be a Catholic. At this early age – she was fourteen and still a minor following her parent’s bidding – she did not understand all her father’s reasoning, but she came to truly love the pageantry and rituals of the Catholic service, particularly Mass, and was intrigued by the lives of the Saints.

She dimly remembered that her parents continued to have Jewish friends and to live their lives, although largely secular, as Jewish people. Protected by the convent, however, the three daughters were trained to be Catholics. Later in life, two of the daughters, younger than Hannah, refused to admit that they had ever been Jewish, born of Jewish parents. But Hannah knew.

After the war, she was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris, and her Francophile identity was both reinforced and welcomed when she returned to Montreal. She did not have an identity problem then; she was a French-speaking Catholic. Point final. She sang Canada’s national anthem (with Quebec nationalistic fervor) in French. With her love of Catholic pageantry, she was attracted to the theatre, where she met the charismatic actor who was to become her husband. He was Catholic, and in due course, they had two children, both brought up a Catholics.

Eventually Hollywood’s artistic top echelon called on her husband’s talents, and that’s where her identity problem resurfaced. In Los Angeles, far from the circles she frequented in Montreal, Hannah was drawn to the Jewish community, and, as time went on, involved in its leadership. Then, as her children grew and moved back to Montreal, she became increasingly active in the L.A. Jewish community and contributed generously to many Jewish charities.

However, she never attended synagogue services. Never. Nor, as a non-practicing Catholic, did she attend Catholic, or indeed, any kind of religious services. She was vocal, though, against Israel’s “policies,” and thus relieved her guilt and ambivalence towards her Jewish antecedence by her attitude towards Israel (which she eventually visited with a church group). But, despite her anti-religious, anti-Israel posture, there was no doubt about it: she was magnetically drawn to the Jewish community. It was there that she felt most at home.

Yet there was another side to the coin. Whenever she returned to Montreal for a visit with her children and friends, she immediately reverted to her French Catholic past life and associations, although she did not attend Catholic services there either. But she always felt guilty – wherever she was. She felt guilty in Montreal because she was hiding her Jewishness, and she felt guilty in Los Angeles because she was hiding her Catholicism.

* * * *

A Double Life:

When I met Hannah in Los Angeles some twenty years ago, she was a widow. No more Catholic husband to complicate things. Her children were far away. I assumed that she was Jewish because of her activities in Jewish organizations, but, as our friendship grew, she confided to me how tortured she felt about her identity.

“I feel like such a hypocrite,” she said. “When I am in Los Angeles, I lead a Jewish life. I have Jewish friends. I belong – and lead – Jewish organizations. But when I am in Montreal with my children and grandchildren, I live as a Catholic.”

She was leading a double life – a tale of two religions, two cultures – in terms of her identity, yet she denied being “religious.” She was secular, she would insist. So her religious orientation didn’t matter. Nor she did not follow Jewish religious practice in secret, as the Marranos (victims of the Spanish inquisition in the late 1400s and 1500s) once did.

“There are many paths to God, “I would suggest, not as a rabbi but as a friend. “For you, there was a fork in the road, and the path you took was chosen for you by someone else. Since you travel both paths, why not enjoy the best of each of them and learn from each of them. But you know, Hannah, eventually you will have to decide for yourself, to make a choice.”

Still, as she grew older, Hannah became increasingly uneasy about her identity, secular though she proclaimed it to be. “Sometimes I miss the rituals and pageantry of the Catholic Mass,” she would say wistfully. “Sometimes I dream about them. My grandchildren are Catholic.” Yet she still resisted going to services of any kind. Not Jewish, not Catholic.

When she decided to move from her apartment to an Assisted Living facility, she gave away many of her possessions to charitable organizations, and she also gave some lovely things to her children and friends, including me. Wanting to reciprocate, I thought long and hard before I decided what I could give to her in return, something small that she could take with her to her new home. She already had everything material anyone could want. What didn’t she have? Peace of mind.

When I lived in Canada, I owned an art and antique gallery for a number of years, and among the antique jewelry I had retained when I closed the gallery was a beautiful, large, antique cross, dating from the 1850s. Silver on gold (as was often done in those days) and ornamented with little diamonds, it hung from a silver chain.

I had already donated the Jewish ritual items I owned to a local Judaica museum, but the curator didn’t want the cross. Now, many years later, I decided to gift it to Hannah, who was already well settled in the Assisted Living facility but still breathing at night with the help of an oxygen tank. “This is for you Hannah,” I said. “Your father wanted you to be protected. When you wear it, you’ll be doing what your father wanted.”

“There is always anti-Semitism,” she replied, tears welling up in her eyes. “It never goes away.” Immediately, she put the cross around her neck and smiled joyfully. She has been wearing it underneath her clothing ever since.

“Now you have decided for yourself,” I said. “There is comfort in that. God’s world is for everyone.”

With a failing heart, in fear, she had chosen her path, like the hidden Jews who still live in New Mexico and elsewhere as Catholics, secreting their true Jewish identity 500 years after the Spanish Inquisition in fear of a persecution-to-come. But in Hannah’s case, it was a cross, not a Jewish star, that she wore under her clothing, next to the heart.

In Hebrew, the word for heart is “lev.” The heart’s beating is connected to the pulse of our being. And to our minds. The heart always knows.

“What the heart is to the body, the Jewish people are to the world,” wrote the famous poet Judah Halevi [4]. It is a heart that has continued beating for thousands of years.

* * * *

[1] Teshuva refers to Repentance. In order to completely repent, you must first make restitution to the injured party or parties, and then sufficiently repent so that when a similar circumstance occurs, you act differently.

[2] Mishna Torah, Bk. 1., Ch. 10:6. In Isadore Twersky, ed. A Maimonides Reader, 85.

[3] “Highly regarded as a scholar, he was presented with many questions about Jewish law amidst the hardships of ghetto life. Rabbi Oshry wrote the questions and answers on scraps of paper torn from sacks of concrete, placed these notes in tin cans, and then buried them. These questions reflect the dilemmas faced by Jews in the Holocaust and serve as an historic record of how the Jews in the Kovno Ghetto were determined to live by Jewish law despite the inhuman, horrifying conditions. After the liberation of Kovno in August, 1944, Rabbi Oshry retrieved the hidden archive and published five volumes of responsa.”, March 31, 2014).


©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2017. All rights reserved.