Archive by category "Odds and Ends"

The Shape

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

So many gardens live in the memories of my life journey. There was the garden of my youth in Montreal, where my mother painted a vibrant oil of me at 15, relaxing in a striped canvas chair amid the lush summer greenery. Adjacent to our garden was an empty lot where my dentist Dad planted vegetables – still a victory garden now that World War II had ended and he was back from a four-year tour in England (including hospital time for a serious injury). How we reveled in that garden! What can rival the taste of sweet peas snapped fresh from the pod? Or ripe tomatoes off the vine? Or the tallness of corn? What a change from wartime apartment living where our downstairs neighbor pounded on the ceiling with a broom if my sister and I were too noisy!

Then there were the beautiful gardens of my married life. So many of my children’s birthday parties were celebrated there in our first house on rue Capitaine Bernier (and later in the lush garden behind our Georgian-style house fronted by white-pillars in the Town of Mount Royal), complete with lollipops hanging from the willow tree, lots of delicious food, and happy splashings in the large, above-ground pool. So many loving people to share our joy as they lounged around our gardens, savoring the summer sunshine months in Canada, forming large circles the better to share their stories of pleasures past and present.

Years later, there was the lovely garden of my Toronto house. Not only did a fragrant rose garden centered in the middle of that expansive green lawn bloom every year in June and September of the decade I lived in that house with its stained glass windows, but the garden also backed onto a manicured city park dotted with walking pathways. It made my own garden seem vast. Only now my children were scattered in Montreal, Vancouver, and California. But they visited often. “It feels like home,” they would say.

Yet today, when I am asked if I miss Canada, this is what I miss: the close familial circles that marked the youth of my children, both indoors and outdoors, in the happy moments of our lives. I have recounted some of them in my book, Cryo Kid: Drawing A New Map. Many of those I wrote about in those gardens of long ago are gone from this world. My memories, however, still live on. And I am so fortunate that new memories are accumulating to augment – not replace – the remembrance of things past. I will never forget, for example, “The Shape” in my daughter’s spacious garden in Sherwood Forest, Los Angeles, where there is summer almost all year long — even when the California-born residents call it winter.  It is also the home of my grand-daughter, Samantha.

This is where The Shape has formed in the poolside patio under a canopy that shields it from the strong sun. It is composed of a large group of loving people gathered closely for ease of conversation – and just to be together — in a circle of comfortable chairs. It is a shape that has formed because they all love Samantha. The people who make up this Shape are all connected to her through the marvels of modern medicine. They are her biological family. Her natural mother is Janet. Her biological father – who, together with his wife Sara, has his own two children as well – Benjamin and Harrison — is called Jeff.  Samantha adores the young boys. (“They are my half-brothers, you know,” she is proud to tell people.) She has come to love Jeff and Sara too and the rest of the biological family. They are all part of The Shape that has formed in the poolside patio.

There is Ila, Jeff’s mother, and Allen, Jeff’s father, and Holly, his second wife. They are all Samantha’s biological grandparents. Then there is Andy, her biological aunt, and her partner, Larry. There is Bonnie, Sara’s kind mother, also thrilled to be part of The Shape, even though there is no biological connection, and Sara’s dad, Ken. Most important, there is the warmth of acceptance, of the open arms extended, and the belief that there can never be too much family, that there is lots of love to go around. And, of course, there I am too – Samantha’s natural grandmother. (Bert, Samantha’s natural grandfather, passed away two years ago.) Often too, there are Shelley, my daughter and Janet’s sister, and Ira, my son-in-law, with their two children, Joshua and Rachel. There is my daughter, Susan, also Samantha’s aunt and sometimes my daughters, Laura and Ruth, visiting from Vancouver, B.C.  We all have a good time eating and swimming and laughing together. Or just relaxing. In fact, all the people who make up The Shape are very happy to be here beside our pool in one grand circle.

The only being who is not so sure about this presence is our red-headed dog, Penny. She is a wavy Labradoodle, half poodle and half Australian Lab. Normally, with those two halves kicking in, she has enough energy to fuel a rocket ship. Now she is quivering somewhere between suspicion and caution. She has just emerged from the side door that exits our kitchen with the expectation of jumping joyously into the pool. Instead, from the other side of the garden, she spies something unfamiliar. An awesomely large, circular, closely held Shape! Its back is turned to her. She has never seen anything like it before.

What strange thing could be lurking in our garden? She can’t make it out from afar. It’s certainly not a squirrel. Much more ominous. So she surreptitiously creeps forward, step by step, her body gradually lowering closer and closer to the ground. Now she is on her belly, moving forward bit by bit like a soldier in combat. Even though she is really scared now, she will protect her family. Her green-brown eyes narrowed, emitting a low growl, she surveys The Shape.

But to Penny’s surprise, The Shape turns itself around to welcome her into its circle. Oh, these are people, after all, loving people. Penny likes people. She licks hands and faces to welcome them. In return, there are lots of loving pats and hugs. Of course, she is given some treats for being such a good guardian. Everything’s okay. Penny can jump in the pool now and splash around without any worries, and The Shape can come anytime to her sunny garden in Los Angeles. And have they seen the roses (and oranges and lemons) this year?

Wishing you all, friends old and new, much happiness in the gardens of your own lives, and in whatever pathways you choose to follow, and many blessings in the calendar year 2019!

©Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

FYI: A new Steinsalz Torah in English and Hebrew

FYI: A new Steinsalz Torah in English and Hebrew

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

Image credit: https://healingvoyage.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/light-emerging-from-darkness.jpg

From Darkness to Light

For the last couple of years, I have been receiving an online daily Talmud excerpt (in Hebrew Daf Yomi) from the Aleph Society – in English! It is available in Hebrew too. What’s remarkable are the clear and brilliant insights from Rabbi Adin Steinsalts. Now, under the auspices of the Koren Publishers, he has just published an English/Hebrew text of the Torah, accompanied by his own commentary.

For example, how long is the day that Genesis defines? Why does darkness precede light??  Aleph just sent out the following online sample of this great rabbi’s thinking:

“Reading from the very first lines of Genesis, he [Steinsaltz] asks: Where does the day begin?

Intuitively it begins with morning’s first light…The biblical account of Creation, however, indicates that the unit of time known as day begins in the evening, so that darkness precedes light…The day begins with the evening and continues through the morning light, just as the beginning of all existence was hidden in its absence. This idea also conveys a message of hope: From a dark and concealed beginning light shall emerge.”

This Torah text  (Hebrew and English text on opposite pages) with  commentary and letters large enough to read easily will be available or purchase online after Simchat Torah. A complete version of the Tenakh is planned for 2019.

Terumah: The Tabernacle Within (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

 

Terumah: The Tabernacle Within (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

“Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Although the words “Ark” and “Tabernacle” are sometimes used interchangeably, the Tabernacle is actually what houses the Ark of the Covenant (which in turn houses the Tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and which was portable through the desert). In Parshat Terumah, which takes place well after the Golden Calf episode has subsided, there is a divine awareness that the ancient Israelites needed to have a place to worship – a makom – in order to cement their identification as a people. So, guided by God’s very specific architectural instructions – and by the superbly talented artist that God has chosen, Bezalel – the people find and donate the materials to construct a beautiful setting where they can gather to worship and feel close to God. In later iterations when they actually enter the Promised Land, it will become a Temple.

Italy — 16th-18th century

Every time I read this parsha, I think of John Dryden’s poem, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” in which he equates universal truth with beauty and beauty with universal truth. “That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” Although Dryden didn’t study Kabbalah, beauty is high up on the Kabbalistic ladder of attributes.

And every time I study Terumah, I also think of the Toronto exhibition of recovered Yugoslavian Jewish art treasures, buried for 50 years to save them from the Nazis – the earth had been their protective tabernacle. Over a period of five years, I organized this exhibit (at the request of my good friend, the late Hon. Kalman Samuels, then Honorary Ambassador to Yugoslavia, now the former Yugoslavia). It took place in 1990, shown just before a horrific, new conflict broke out in that country. Smaller than the Czech collection, this display of precious Judaica was held at the beautiful, jewel-like, museum of the substantial Beth Tzedec synagogue. The famous Cecil Roth collection is permanently housed there. On this occasion, though, with the cooperation of the Museum of Zagreb (in Croatia) and the Jewish Museum of Belgrade (in Serbia), and lots of diplomatic help, the Yugoslavian Jewish art treasures, dating back centuries, were on view to the public for two months.

What especially took one’s breath away was the large collection of silk parochets – the embroidered or otherwise patterned curtains that had once shielded the Torah-containing Arks of so many synagogues throughout Yugoslavia – perfectly preserved and hanging in overwhelming splendor from the vaulted ceiling all along the grand stairway that led to the Beth Tzedec’s second floor. It was the inspiration of the museum’s curator, Judith Cardozo, to place them there.

Over the past years, I have traveled a good deal of the world as Guest Staff Rabbi for a prominent cruise line. Some of the places I have visited have been so marked by political strife, extreme poverty, and ugly graffiti, that I could not help thinking it was a good thing “the people” had their religion, their cathedrals and mosques, their beautiful places to which to retreat – and, in the case of Brazil, the frenetic music, dance and costumes of Carnival — in the midst of all this ugliness, or they would simply explode. Faith and beauty, if not truth, were their safeguards.

And, as portrayed by Terumah, in the desert where the ancient Israelites traveled on the way to the Promised Land, God realizes that it is time for the Jewish people to have a place of spiritual beauty – still a transportable one — where they can both worship and feel close to the Divine presence. “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them,” God instructs Moses.

For this undertaking, the people they will need to bring gifts of the the finest materials: gold, silver, copper; blue (obtained from specific snails), purple, and crimson yarns (probably wool because they held dye well), fine linen, and materials of the desert such as goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins. Fine acacia wood was needed. In addition, oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense were needed. And finally, gems like lapis lazuli and other semi-precious stones for the ephods and breastpieces (of the priests’ garments) (Exodus 25: 3-8).

As we read these passages today, it’s amazing how detailed, how precise, God’s instructions are. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks comments in “Covenant and Conversation” (5777), the building of the tabernacle is, in effect, a symbolic micro-cosmos reflecting the exact precision of the universe. The instructions given to Noah to build an Ark to save a portion of the world and its creatures were similarly precise. Even the human body, the human genome, requires precision in the way the many details of the body’s composition work together.

Mystics have always understood that mathematics underlies the Torah – underlies the cosmos and every living thing, no matter how large or small. What is most important, in the end, is our interior tabernacle; that is the personal sanctuary we most need to furnish with the light of the menorah and keep it alive, even if we are in a far-away country, even if we don’t own a lampstand.

©️Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

Inclusion: Yartzheit, 2017

Inclusion:

Yartzheit, 2017 [1]

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

a beautiful body is a lovely thing

an admirable value my sister didn’t

have a beautiful body she felt

left out I know what it did

to my sister inside b’ahavah

 

 

[1] On the Hebrew anniversary of the loved one’s death (the Yartzheit), special prayers are recited in the synagogue. Traditionally a memorial candle is lit in remembrance.

 

 

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

When the Fatwa Generated a Storm: The Freedom and Integrity of the Pen

When the Fatwa Generated a Storm:

The Freedom and Integrity of the Pen

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

 

Photo credit: http://mediad.publicbroadcasting.net/p/wnpr/files/styles/x_large/public/201501/Snow_covered_cars.jpg

It was December, 1992  — a quarter of a century ago — when my sister arrived, to visit me in Toronto. Wheelchair bound for many years, she travelled rarely. Thrilled that she was coming, I had planned various activities I knew she would enjoy, among them PEN Canada’s annual gala, a fund-raiser at which some of PEN’s literary celebrities (like Margaret Atwood) would perform [1]. The event was to held at the downtown Pantages Theatre in Toronto, where I reserved two seats, one of them wheelchair accessible for my sister, with great sightlines. But the night of the gala, it started to snow hard, quite hard, and so I packed my sister into the car, folded her wheelchair into the trunk, and left much earlier than I would have done normally in order to get there on time.

Canadian born, my sister and I were used to winter. My family were all skiers. I know how to drive in snow. But this night was a doozer! Despite the weather, though, when we finally got to the theatre, it was packed full of hardy souls, just as we expected. First of all, the tickets were too expensive not to come, once you had one, and secondly, none of the assembled literati, including me, were going to miss the PEN Gala. It was not exactly the Canadian version of the Oscars, but it was close.

My sister’s handicap placard wasn’t valid in Canada, but the police – oh my goodness, there seemed to be a lot of them! – kindly let me park right in front of the theatre long enough to unpack the wheelchair and push my sister, a rather hefty bundle, through the snow into the theatre. We found our seats, and then I left to park my car. By this time, the snow was heavy but still “walkable,” and I was exuberant at finding a parking space in a lot a couple of blocks away, or so it seemed to me. I quickly parked the car and briskly walked back to the theatre, sinking into my seat just a couple of minutes before the curtains parted for the show.

Nevertheless, I still had time to observe that the theatre’s interior seemed to be lined with quite a few Mounties (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, although they rarely ride horses anymore) in full ceremonial dress. These are the federal police in Canada. Interspersed among them were others in civilian dress, probably detectives, scrutinizing the crowd. And then I had no more time to think. The show had started!

It was a lot of fun, especially for people with a literary bent. My sister loved it. But then, just as the audience was starting to applaud for what we thought was the final curtain, a male figure strode onto the stage, surrounded by a semi-circle of Mounties.

The First Miracle

When the center figure of the semi-circle on the stage was introduced as Salman Rushdie, author of the satirical novel, “The Satanic Verses,” the audience gasped. We all knew that a “fatwa” calling for Rushdie’s assassination had been issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, four years earlier in 1989. Why? For satirizing the prophet Mohammed and his wife, Aisha, in “The Satanic Verses.” The Ayatollah considered it blasphemous. Salman Rushdie was therefore condemned to death, and anyone who murdered him would be well rewarded with a milliondollar bounty.

But Salman Rushdie was British-Indian, born in India, educated at Cambridge, and a British citizen. For the Ayatollah to issue a death warrant for a British subject was a great affront, not only to Britain, but to what was then called the free world – in other words, the West – whose shocked reaction was ineffective. Although Iran had thrown down the gauntlet, the Western countries seemed not to know what to do beyond diplomatic protests. Meanwhile there were public burnings of Rushdie’s books in countries with Muslim majorities.

As a result, Rushdie was put under police protection by the British government for several years. The PEN event in Canada three years after the fatwa was issued was the first time any organization had the courage to invite him to give a public reading. It took a great deal of courage and organization, and the invitation was conducted in complete secrecy. Only the top executive leaders of PEN knew Rushdie was coming.

Onstage, an immensely grateful Rushdie described what it was like to live in hiding, fleeing with his wife, and – with the help of the British government – to sleep in a different house every night, and always with the fear of being killed in his sleep. It was such a memorable event that in 2012, PEN Canada held a 20th Anniversary celebration of this occasion [2].

When Rushdie read to us excerpts from his new manuscript, “Midnight’s Children,” which he was still writing while in hiding, it was a moment that this 1992 audience would never forget. It was such a memorable event, accompanied by tumultuous applause, that in 2012, PEN Canada held a 20th Anniversary celebration of this occasion [3].

After the reading, my sister’s face was flushed with excitement and appreciation. When Rushdie had first appeared on the stage, the audience had almost collapsed in, as one writer put it, “collective disbelief.” It seemed like a miracle. For my sister and myself, it was to be only the first miraculous event of the evening.

The Second Miracle

The second miracle didn’t feel like a miracle at first. It felt more like a disaster. After I parked my sister in the theatre lobby in front of a large glass window looking out at the street, I said, “I’m going to get the car now. I won’t be long. I’m just parked a couple of blocks away.”

But when I stepped outside, the driving snow had turned into a veritable blizzard, and the direction I was walking was heading right into it. The snow had already built up halfway to my knees. So I crouched down low, lifting one foot up from the thick snow and planting it down further ahead in more thick snow, and then the same thing with the other foot. Methodically I advanced toward the parking lot a couple of blocks away. On the South East corner of the street, right? That’s what I had noted when I originally parked there just two and a half hours earlier.

When I finally plodded through the snow to the parking lot on the corner, it was still full of cars. Only they all looked the same. Completely covered with snow. And guess what color my car was? You guessed it! White. Never buy a white car in Canada. I tried to determine the approximate place in which I had parked my car – and brushed away the snow from the license plates in that general area. Brush, brush! Not my car. Brush, brush! Not my car. After a lot of brush, brushing and many wrong license plates, I determined that 1) my car was not in that parking lot, no way, and 2) that I had better get back to the theatre lobby before they closed, and my sister was out in the street.

Plod, plod, plod, plod. “I’ll never make it to the theatre.” I was shivering. Just at that moment, I spotted an ambulance, a police ambulance, parked at the side of the road and just starting up the engine. “Wait, wait,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “Wait for me.”

The ambulance driver did. I managed to reach his window and begged him to 1) help me pick up my invalid sister and 2) help me find my lost car. “Well, it’s against the regulations” he hemmed and hawed, but as he watched my tears freeze on my face, he said, “Okay. Get in. I’ll help you.”

So we got my sister, to the worried manager’s relief, and the three of us lifted the wheelchair, and my sister in it, into the ambulance. Thank God. My sister could not conceal her amazement. Where had this ambulance come from? I realized it had been parked on the street as a precaution in case there were any problems associated with the Rushdie reading. Well, now we were the problem, my sister and I.

“Show me this parking lot,” the ambulance driver said kindly.

“The South East corner, two blocks down.” So he drove me there, and I told him about my earlier brush, brush routine. He understood. “A white car,” he groaned. His ambulance was white too. White and blue.

“You know,” he said, “there’s actually another parking lot on the South East corner, but it’s one block over to the right. Do you think you could have parked there?”

A light went on in my head. Could it be?

So he drove us to the next lot, and after a lot of brush, brush on my part, the letters and numbers of my totally snow-covered license were revealed. My car! My white car!

We thanked him a million times as he transferred my sister to my car, helped me fold up the wheelchair and pack it in the trunk, and waited until I cleared the snow off my windows, the front and rear lights, and my tailpipe, revved up the car, and backed out. Ready to go.

“Drive slowly,” he said. And with a wave of his hand, the officer and his ambulance were gone.

My sister and I were giddy with relief. We laughed and laughed and giggled and giggled. We couldn’t stop. “No one will believe me,” my sister chortled. She was known to embellish a tale or two. And then there was a third miracle.

The third miracle was that by keeping my eyes focused on the red tail lights of the cars directly in front of me, I managed to see my way through the blizzard. When we got home, we were still laughing.

So that’s how it happened. Three miraculous events in one night. And all of them were generated by the courageous leadership of Canadian writers who respected the integrity and freedom of the pen. Even in a snowstorm.

* * * *

 

[1] PEN was originally an acronym for Poets, Essayists, and Novelists, and you had to be invited to belong. Today this international organization includes Playwrights and diverse other writers as well.

[2] Graham Gibson, then President of PEN Canada, and the husband of Margaret Atwood, and several others like John Ralston Saul are to be commended for inviting Rushdie and for the complex organization and security arrangements that followed.

[3] “On December 7, 1992, PEN Canada held a benefit for Salman Rushdie at which then Ontario premier Bob Rae became the first head of government to welcome Rushdie in a public forum anywhere in the world…. Rushdie later described the evening as one ‘he would never forget’” (PEN newsletter).

 

 

©️Corinne Copnick, 2017. All rights reserved.