“It’s hard to be a Jew” is an old Yiddish expression that has suited me very well in my 26 years as a publisher. I’ve been told my newspaper is too Jewish. I’ve been told it’s not Jewish enough. I’ve been called an “ultra Zionist.” I’ve been called “anti-Israel.”
All the while, I’ve made my identity clear to my readers. I’m a secular Jew who practices Judaism in a secular way. I’ve spent more than seven years of my adult life living in Haifa, Israel, where Jews and Arabs live more or less in harmony.
I have heard comments that The Senior Times is a Jewish paper because we do analytical/travel articles about Israel, cover Jewish speakers, at least one of them with extreme left-wing views, so much so that he was not given a venue to speak in any of our city’s synagogues or community centres.
We are running a series on the different faces of Judaism, which started with an interview with Rabbi Ron Aigen and continued with two female rabbis new to Montreal. Part of the idea was to show Montrealers how diverse Jews are in their faith and practice.
Do I really have to add that we write about people from all creeds and that this is not what determines whether we feature them?
Look at our cover pages to see how we choose our profiles not based on where people come from or what they believe but on what makes them great. They are city councilors, opera, jazz, pop or folk singers, broadcasters, teachers, athletes, actors, founders of charities, motor scooter riders, ballet dancers, children, political activists, feminists, rabbis, Unitarian ministers, MNAs and MPs. We care about their accomplishments, what makes them special, what makes us read what they have to say.
As a teacher, I don’t spend any time thinking about whether my students are Jewish, Black, Chinese, Cambodian, Japanese, French Canadian, aboriginal, gay, lesbian, theist, non-theist, Muslim, Arab, Lebanese or Christian, unless they choose to share that information with me or to write about it. Teaching in the multicultural world of Dawson College, my students have taught me that their cultures, their faiths, their traditions are important, but that for the most part, they are happy in the “melting pot on ice” of Dawson College, a microcosm of Canadian society in all its colours and shapes and sizes.
As a publisher and a teacher of young adults, I have tried to emphasize what brings us together—those traditions and beliefs and values we share as Quebecers and Canadians.
Born in Winnipeg and raised in Edmonton, I grew up in probably the only Jewish family that didn’t belong to a synagogue. I was an outsider among outsiders. Perhaps this is why I have always been a bit jaded about the labeling of people and the idea of trying to define people by their race, religion, culture or lack thereof.
Years ago, an unidentified caller asked me whether my paper was Jewish-owned. Obviously I took offense. Why did he want to know that and what did it matter? And what does it matter if we write on Jewish themes or we don’t? And why does it matter if our columnists are Jewish or not?
I am reminded of these words from The Merchant of Venice, but I’d like you to substitute any of the above labels for the word “Jew.”
“Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.”
Five hundred years later, we still have hatred in the world as we recently learned when a radio talk show host let a caller tell him that Hitler was the best thing that ever happened to the Jews. We still engage in suspicion and fear of the Other.
My mandate for The Senior Times, now in its 27th year, has always been to bridge the gaps that divide us, to reach out to one another in times of need and share our times of happiness, to question what doesn’t work in our society and to look for answers to make our communities work better—and always to look out for those who can’t look after themselves, especially, as my mother taught me, the animals. Yes, we have featured many loving animals on our pages.
To the advertiser who sent us a fax that read “The Jewish Senior Times,” if it makes you happy to call us that for whatever reason, I accept that.
We are The Senior Times and we are for everyone who wants to get to the heart of the issues that face us, as the diverse and complex people we are.
Barbara Moser, editor and publisher of The Senior Times