Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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Path to Peace

 

Path to Peace.jpg

Image courtesy of Steven Branco

It has been two months since I came back from Israel and people still ask me what my favourite part of the trip was.  It is a question that I find impossible to answer.  The trip has become a series of moments and a blur of places.  Each place has their own story, but none more than Netiv Ha’asara – a small Moshav (cooperative agricultural community) that is the closest Israeli community to the Gaza Strip. The distance is 400 metres away or a little less than a 5 minute walk.  Just to give you some perspective, the distance from Niagara Falls, Canada to Niagara Falls, US is around 5.6 kilometres.  When we first were told that we would be visiting Netiv Ha’asara, I was filled with a sense of excitement.  How many people get to visit this place?  Other people may be a little fearful, but I knew that by going, that I would be able to see things differently.  It would not just be my own love of the country of Israel – it would be seeing, first hand, the day to day struggles of people living under the threat of rocket fire and now, the thousands of burning kites.

NATIV Haasara

To get to the Moshav, we drove through an imposing gate with barbed wire – it gave off a prison-like feel.  This quickly dissipated when we stepped out of the van into the hot, desert sunshine.  A short distance away, we could hear children laughing and playing in a pool.  It felt like we could be anywhere in the world.  We were met by a resident and we walked a short distance to a building that was the community bomb shelter.  It was larger than I expected and looked more like a place where you would have a town hall meeting versus a safe haven from missiles.  He explained the founding of the Moshav (they moved from the Sinai Peninsula after the Egytian/Israeli Peace Accords when they were displaced) which is why they feel that they cannot move.  He showed us some of the Qassam Rockets that rained regularly on the community.  We had the chance to hold them and they are quite heavy and capable of a lot of damage.  He also showed us an Iron Dome which Israel uses to intercept and destroy the rockets.  He patiently took our questions, but one question that he was not sure of is how much longer he could live with the rocket threat.

We were then taken a short distance to an outlook where you could Jabalia (Gaza) a very short distance away.  It really brought home, to me and my traveling companions, how precarious the situation was for these residents.  As we drove another short distance, we could see these little buildings decorated with artwork.  They were bomb shelters, decorated for and by children to make them less scary.  When an air siren goes off, the people (including the children) of the community have 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter.  Imagine living your life that way.  We were dropped off at the Path to Peace (Netiv Hashalom) Visitor Centre where we had the pleasure of meeting its owner,  Tzameret Zamir,  Zamir lives in a house that is closest to the imposing gray walls that protect the people in Netiv Ha’asara from gunfire from the Gaza Strip.  We were shown in and told to select a colourful tile with a saying on it; I selected happiness.  We then sat and watched a movie about Zamir, her daughter and the Moshav that they call home.

We learned more about Zamir and what the Path to Peace is.  We took a moment to write a wish on the back on the small tile we were given.  We walked beyond the Visitor Centre (which is attached to her home) to the walls that protect the Moshav.   The walls, huge and imposing, are covered with a sign made up of thousands of tiny mosaic pieces, like the ones we just wrote our wishes on.  On one wall, there are doves and peace signs with Path to Peace written in English, Hebrew and Arabic.  On other, smaller walls, there are butterflies and flowers and an Israeli Flag mosaic lives on yet another wall.  It was overwhelming.  There, the scale of what Zamir has created finally made sense. She told us that she wanted to create these beautiful works of art so that the first thing that the Gazans see is something beautiful and welcoming when they look across at Israel.

Ceremic Messages

Image courtesy of Steven Branco

We each placed our tiles down and took a photo.  We had just a brief time to walk around before our visit came to an end.  I hugged Zamir and told her what an incredible person that she is and how moved I was by the experience.  I was also a little embarrassed that I did not know about the place or the Path to Peace artwork.  It is, of course, not controversial enough to make conventional news.  It is also too positive of a story to get any traction.  It is a reminder of possibility in these very dark times.  The residents of Nativ Ha’asara do not hate the people on the other side of the wall.  They want peace and this wall is there as a reminder to all that anything is possible if you set aside fear and embrace hope.

 

 

 

 


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Brock McGillis – First but not Last

Brock 3

Photo courtesy of Brock McGillis

Brock McGillis isn’t just a former OHL and professional hockey playing, having played in both the USA and Europe; he is also the first, and so far only, pro hockey player to openly come out as gay.  In addition to providing on and off-ice training with elite level hockey players in the City of Greater Sudbury, Brock also serves as a mentor and a motivational speaker.

With a mission to create equality regardless of sexuality, gender or race, and a focus of helping LGBTQ+ youth on loving themselves, he has an important message.  He also wants to help all youth shift their language, treat others with respect and become the support system that LGBTQ+ kids need.  I was deeply touched by his message.  I’m straight, or what’s considered an ally, but I have many people in my life from this community.  It absolutely breaks my heart to think of them being hated just for being who they are.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a hockey fan.  The only sport I love watching is figure skating, but when you hear a story that is so humane, I needed to know more.  Brock was kind enough to call me and answer some questions.  To illustrate the kind of person that he is, this is someone who made the time to chat with me, even though he’s been interviewed by the likes of CBC’s The National, Yahoo and other bigger and better newspapers and blogs and for that I’m thankful.  Here are just some of the questions that I asked:

Children, including those that are part of the LGBTQ+ community have pressures on them that even you may not have experienced growing up.  For example, with social media, there is no escape from bullying, you can’t even get away from it at home.  What tips or tools do you recommend to help cope with these additional pressures?

First off, tell someone.  It’s hard to engage with a bully and I don’t encourage kids to do this.  You may not be in a place to confront the bully.  If I’m reactive to a bully, there will be a barrier.  If you are going to speak to them, personalize it.  For example, I ask them if they know that 95% of people know someone who is LGBTQ+.  It could be a family member or a friend.  Ask if they would want a person in their life to be hurt or if they would intentionally hurt them.  If there is an ally there, they should know that laughter hurts more than words.  Don’t laugh.  But the kid being bullied needs to stay strong and not react.

You have openly admitted that there was a time when you thought about taking your life.  If someone that you knew or was mentoring felt the same way, what is your advice to them?

Mental illness is becoming an epidemic.  There are resources available and help that is available so that you can find a support system.  Don’t hide your illness – people are there for you and want to help.  How can they not want to? Part of the issue is that mental health isn’t visible so people can’t always see your struggle.  You have to be open, then people can support you.

Brock 2.jpg

Image courtesy of Brock McGillis

Many kids do not grow up in a household where they will be accepted if they are LGBTQ+.  How can they get help when they don’t have at-home support?  How can you get the courage to come out if you don’t know how people will react?

Pick your spot when  you come out.  You know your surroundings and what you are dealing with.  Come out when it’s feasible for you to move on, when you can be independent, not when there is the danger of you getting kicked out of the house.  You will feel better when you accept yourself.  You have to love yourself.  I love being a gay man.  I want people to be clear and hear that.  Once you love yourself, you can withstand hate.  But some people just need time.  We expect people to be OK with everything the minute that we come out.  We’ve had years to think about this, they haven’t  Some people just need time.

I read a quote of yours that was heartbreaking.  It was something to the effect of “…how badly I wanted approval in a world that did not approve of me.”  What do you say to someone who feels exactly the same way?

You don’t need approval, you have to approve of yourself.  It’s all internal.  When I starting approving of myself, it empowered me.  I stopped caring about what others thought.  You have to accept yourself.  Seeking acceptance from others implies a hierarchy.  No one is above or below anyone else.  We don’t need to accept others, and others don’t need to accept us.

What is the toughest question that any young person has asked you and how did you answer it?

It was actually at the second school that I spoke at – I was fresh into this, there were about 1,000 students.  There was a kid that had this arrogance about him, and his question out of everything that I was saying about my experience of coming out was “What about in the showers.  Isn’t it awkward for you and your teammates?”  I wasn’t reactionary, but I wanted to send a message.  I asked him if had siblings and a sister, and he said yes.  I asked if he played hockey, he said yes.  We are taught in hockey that we are all a family, all brothers, right?  Again the answer was yes.  Finally, I asked him if finds his sister hot and he turned beet red.  The whole school cheered.  I used the moment to inform and educate him while taking him down a peg.  I’m still in touch with him today and have mentored him in hockey.

How can we help as allies?

You can help in a number of ways.  You can start by being a shoulder for someone and showing that you care.  Voice your support for either a person being bullied or the LGBTQ+ community.  Some people show their support by going to Pride an marching or by going to a rally.

Other ways are more simple.  Treat everyone as an equal and help encourage openness by not being judgmental.  I like to say that normal doesn’t exist, we are all weirdos in our own way.  Having a discourse with someone that is struggling is always helpful.  It can also be a grassroots initiative by an individual to help create awareness.  Allies need to stand up, engage and educate.

Brock 1

Image courtesy of Brock McGillis

Do you ever see hockey truly being integrated with makes and females playing on the same professional team?

It’s a difficult equation in professional hockey.  Men and women are built differently and it would be hard for a woman that is 5’1 to withstand hits from a man that is 6’7.  Goal tenders aren’t required to get involved in that level of fighting, so that may work.  I want the best players regardless of gender or sexuality. I just think physiologically it may be more difficult for women. It really is about the best players though – period.

My Take – I was curious about how a pro hockey player would answer this question.  Before all you women out there get all up in arms, think about it for a minute.  I’m not an expert, but from what I understand, women’s hockey doesn’t allow checking – it would add another dimension to their game.  If you think about it objectively, and you compare just on size alone, Brock has a very good point.  Maybe one day there will be women players in the NHL, then again, but maybe there won’t.   Either way, women can still play and participate.

Finally, as time is passing, we can’t forget about the children who have been touched by Humboldt tragedy.  What message do you have for them?

One of the survivors said, ” I haven’t cried and I won’t cry.  I’m a tough Canadian guy.”  Man, you need to cry, you need to grieve.  No one will judge you and if they do, to hell with them.  It’s so sad, and people will be mourning for a long time.  It won’t change overnight.  Hockey is Canadian culture and Canada is hugging you right now, holding you up.  We are all your support system and that won’t go away.

My last thoughts:  In September, 1995, Hillary Clinton stated the following “…let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all,”.  We are at a point where we have to recognize that LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.  We are living in a world right now where hate is, once again, becoming permissible.  In Russia, it’s OK to discriminate openly against gay men and women.  In the Middle East, gay men are marched off of roof tops to their deaths.  Gay men and lesbian women are forced into unwanted sex changes in Iran in order to be with the person that they love.   In North America, LGBTQ+ kids continue to be bullied on a regular basis and that frustration sometimes can lead to suicide.  It was an honour to speak with someone who is so passionate about helping kids in this community and is actively seeking to mentor them.

 

 


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London Can You Wait – A Review

London Can You Wait

Image courtesy of JacquelynMiddleton.com

Many of you who know me, or have read my blog know that I’m an avid reader.  I’m currently trying to read 50 books this year, but I think I’m going to have to settle for 40 – I’m only on number 37 now.  Aim high and manage your expectations I say.  I looked back at the books that I’ve read this year, and let’s just say that my tastes run a little to the depressing/critically acclaimed side of the bookstore.  Books read include “First They Killed My Father”, “The Cellist of Sarajevo”, “House of Sand and Fog”, “Girl With the Pearl Earring” and “The Colour of Our Sky”.  All excellent, but the common thread is that although some may have uplifting moments, generally speaking, they aren’t the happiest books that I’ve ever read.  You wouldn’t catch me smiling to myself as I flipped the pages of these tomes on the subway.  That is why I was grateful to find out that my friend, author Jacquelyn Middleton was publishing a sequel to her popular book “London Belongs to Me”.

“London, Can You Wait?” was a breath of fresh air.  Sometimes, in life, things get heavy, and you need something to escape to and that’s exactly what this was for me.  The follow up novel picks up a year after the end of her first book with her heroine Alex and her boyfriend Mark together and enjoying their relationship.  It was a very different book from “London Belongs to Me”.  Her first novel was great – you can read my review here https://jillschnei.wordpress.com/2016/09/29/london-belongs-to-me/.  That book could very well be classified as Young Adult, but “London, Can You Wait?” takes a decidedly more adult spin on the tale of its two main characters.  We aren’t talking “50 Shades of Grey”, but I would say it was at least 5 shades of baby blue.

It’s definitely chick lit, but there is a part of the tale that is true to the original book – Alex suffers from panic attacks, and this makes the book a stand out from traditional women’s fiction.  It’s a real struggle for her, and it impacts her in various ways in the book.  It is a contributing factor that led to issues in her relationship with Mark, and it plays on her confidence making it relatable to people who suffer for panic attacks, and bringing a greater understanding to people like me who don’t have them.  It also explains how Alex deals with things and instead of feeling frustrated with her inaction at times, you get insight into why she makes the decisions that she does.

All of the likeable supporting characters from the first book are back and you learn more about their back stories.  You also hear more about Mark, her boyfriend in this book and understand his motivations.  I’m not going to spoil the story and tell you any other details, you can find those on other sites, or novel idea (pun intended), buy the book.  I will say that although some of the story rang a little untrue, like when Alex expects her actor boyfriend to cut back on acting roles abroad (as if), but, the drama is more than enough to capture and keep your attention.  You also don’t get as much of the touristy stuff that made book one so readable for me, but that makes sense since Alex is a resident of London now so she doesn’t have that new to the city mentality.  What you do get is an enjoyable read that feels more sophisticated than the original (although I really liked that book too).  Middleton has another success on her hands.  I plowed through the book in 3 days – c’mon, I have a job – and could have finished it in an afternoon if I had the time.  Congratulations Jackie – you have a winning formula.

You can buy this book from Indigo, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo and more by clicking here http://www.jacquelynmiddleton.com/book-store/354/  It can be read as a standalone, but you really should read “London Belongs to Me” to get the most out of the story.  Please don’t buy the book from pirated sites – the author doesn’t receive any royalties, and Jacquelyn Middleton poured her heart into this.  Stay tuned for my interview with her in the upcoming weeks.


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Being Different in A Trump Sort of World

I never realized that I was different from most kids my age until I was at least 4.  Sure, around Christmas time, I wondered why we didn’t have lights or decorations.  My mother just said that we celebrate Chanukah (yes, it really does have a Ch).  I also wondered why Santa didn’t visit us, and she told me that we had a special dot on our door that told Santa not to deliver gifts to our house.  Being gullible, I looked for that stupid dot long after I realized that Santa wasn’t real.  I never did find it.  Just another little disappointment that I’ve had to learn to live with.  Anyway, I was born in Montreal and raised in Sydney, a small city in Nova Scotia.  Being Jewish wasn’t the rule, it was the exception.  Once, when I was about 4, I was playing outside and an older boy, or should I say bully,  from around the corner drove his bicycle over my feet.  He did this simply because I was a Jew.  Luckily, I told my older sister and friend Paul what happened and my sister knocked him off of his bike, and Paul jumped on him and pulled his ears until he apologized.

There were other incidents as I was growing up.  One boy kept yelling “Jill is Jewish” in the playground.  I didn’t get too offended, because even though it was meant as a slur, it was just a fact.  A couple of other kids told me that they knew that I was rich because I was Jewish.  I had no idea what my parents had, all that I knew was that I never did get Superstar Barbie because they said that they couldn’t afford it.  My friends were all very respectful though and defended me when bullying came up.  Interestingly, my closest friends in high school were Muslims and Hindus.  None of us cared about what made us different – we grew up in a very similar way.  The most uncomfortable encounters actually were with adults.

My neighbour, who seemed like a perfectly nice man that let me take his dog for a walk when I was walking my own puppy, later became a bit of a terror.  He got fired from the bank when he told a Jewish customer that he wished Hitler had finished all Jews off.  He  held a bit of a grudge.  When I’d walk my dog, there were times that he would follow us around with his car getting a little too close for comfort.  He threatened to “take a stick” to me and my dog if I ever let Rascal on his lawn.  I was 8 years old at the time, and finally realized that there really was something different about me, something that certain people may not like.

My grade 12 English teacher was the second adult that made things uncomfortable for me.  Just my luck, we were reading “The Merchant of Venice” and he felt it necessary to discuss the character of Shylock’s Judaism for longer than necessary.  Some of what he said absolutely was important to the narrative of the play.   Throwing in his opinion that all Jews are rich, that you never see a Jewish cab driver or maintenance person wasn’t.  He directed comments about Jews being doctors mainly, looking right at me (my father was a doctor) when he said it was just a little slice of heaven.  There was more, but he’s not worth any extra time than this.  Again, most kids and teachers were great.  People from the East Coast (of Canada) are very friendly and welcoming.  Most of the time when they’d make comments or ask questions, it was curiosity, not malice.

When I moved to Toronto, I experienced far worse.  Here is a small smattering of things that I rarely have spoken to anyone about:

  • A woman walked up to me walking along the street with a friend, and said “Excuse me, do you think you are in Jew-town?”.  Me, “Pardon?”  thinking that she couldn’t have said that.  The woman retorted, “You heard me” and walked away.
  • A person, not realizing that I was Jewish, joked about my part time job as a cashier at a card store saying that I was playing “the Jewish” piano.
  • Sitting with a group of friends and acquaintances watching TV one day, a skit came on featuring Hasidic Jews.  It was funny, and if you can’t laugh at your own people, who can you laugh at?  One person took it one step too far and he said exactly these words, “I f%$king hate f$#king Jews with their f$#king big noses and f#$king big wallets.”  He went on to say more, but stopped after a minute more of his tirade when the room got very silent.  He turned to me and said, “Your not Jewish, are you?”.   The last words that I ever said to him were “As a matter of fact, I am”.
  • “You are such a nice person Jill, it’s really too bad that you are going to hell because you don’t accept Christ as your saviour.  Sin is sin in God’s eyes.”
  • “Oh, when I said that Jews were obnoxious and horrible, I didn’t mean you Jill, you aren’t like that.  I meant other Jews.”  If I had a dime for every time someone said some form of this to me, I’d have a couple of hundred dollars at least.
  • I’m not religious, but out of guilt (it’s one of the stereotypes of my religion that’s actually true), I go to synagogue twice a year on the High Holidays.  Every time that I go, there is security that has to check my purse before I’m allowed on the premises.  Imagine going to church and needing to have it checked by bomb-sniffing dogs and needing police protection?  That’s our normal.

The list goes on and on, as it probably does for everyone who is a visible or invisible minority.  There have been times when I’ve seen what it’s like for someone else.  I was in Memphis with my friend when we were waiting for a car rental place to open up.  An African American woman came out of a bus with a whole bunch of children who also happened to be African American.  She was distraught, because the store was late opening and they had to be on the road and she wanted to return the keys for a car.  We offered to do it for her, and she looked like she was going to cry.  She explained that it was just such a nice thing to do after she had such a rough day.   Her group was on a high after taking the kids to the National Civil Rights Museum.  When she checked into her hotel, the front desk clerk told her to keep her little (insert the “N” word here) quiet.  It was traumatizing for her to go from the extreme of how far her people had come, to how much further there still was to go.

Another time, I was on a bus, and there was a young-ish black child (maybe 11 or 12) on his own.  A mentally ill woman starting walking up and down the bus shouting derogatory things about black people.  It was awful, and I just wanted to die for this child.  I talked to him and said you know what she saying isn’t true.  She’s mentally ill, right?  He slowly nodded, but it was so heartbreaking.  I just kept talking to him the rest of the bus ride so that he wouldn’t feel so alone.

All of the things that have happened over the course of my life didn’t prepare me for what I saw in Charlottesville.  The march by the Neo-Nazis and KKK sent chills down my spine.  Watching them take over the streets with their tiki-torches and Anti-Semetic signs was a horrible reminder of what it must have been like to be a Jew (or any minority) in Germany in the 1930’s.  The weekend’s festivities where they spouted hate against African Americans and all other minorities was a reminder that there are home grown terrorists in the US (and Canada) too.  They are being enabled by a President that doesn’t understand moral equivalency because he is completely immoral.

Here is what I have to say to the KKK, the Neo-Nazis/Fascists and haters of all kind.  “Jews will not replace us” (coming from a Nazi Germany and Neo-Nazi saying meaning basically that whites will not be replaced with immigrants and non-whites) makes zero sense.  I have no desire to replace a racist, sexist low-life who spends most of their time hiding behind a hood.  What am I supposed to replace you at?  Marketing for the KKK?    I can imagine the campaigns now: “Wearing White after Labour Day – a Klan do”; “Waterproof Eye Liner – How to paint a Swastika on your face without smearing it.”;  “The All White/Alt Right Food Diet”; “17 Different Woods That Are Best for Burning Crosses”.  I could go on, but I won’t, they aren’t worth it.

If you hate people because of their colour, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender/gender orientation or any other reason, you are a loser.  Really, just a big, old loser.  All of the people marching in the streets for “their country” and “their land” should remember that by ancestry, they too are immigrants.  The only Native Americans, are just that, the Native Americans.  You know, the ones whose land your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents took away?  The Confederates lost the Civil War – get over it.  The Nazis lost World War 2 – it’s time to get on the right side of history.  The side that embraces people that are different than you.  The side that Trump seems confused by.  There are no “fine” Neo-Nazis or KKK.  There are fine people that may be white or black or gay or straight or trans or Jewish or Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Native American/First Nations or Chinese or Japanese or South-East Asian or Arabic or even a mix of all of the above.  We need to learn from history so that the devastation of events like the Holocaust never happen again.