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The Matchbox and Jewish Life

Mark Dov Shapiro, Rabbi Emeritus, Sinai Temple, Springfield MA
November 2016 (Published in the Jewish Ledger)


It's absolutely ironic.

I remember too the Toronto dinner venue which was called the Granite Club. No Jews allowed. Somehow my parents ended up attending an event at the Club and they came home with an inscribed matchbox. The following Friday evening both of them smiled (a bit wickedly) as my mother lit our Shabbat candles with Granite Club matches!

For years to come, my mother used that match box on Friday evenings. We used to chuckle as we imagined what the leaders of the Granite Club might say about their matchbox having gone over to the Jewish people.

But here's the most important point. Even if Toronto was anti-Semitic, that didn't prevent my family and other Toronto Jewish families from having a Jewish life. It wasn't so pleasant or easy to be Jewish in the larger community, but inside our home there was Shabbat, Chanukah, Passover, Jewish books, and Jewish stories. We belonged to a synagogue. We learned and celebrated the rhythms of Jewish life there. My parents even sent me to a Jewish summer camp where Jews were with Jews and heritage was treasured.

In other words, we were Jewish because it was good to be Jewish. There were treasures and blessings for us even if the outside world didn't recognize that.

I think that's a lesson that still applies today. In Springfield or Worcester, in Boston or Los Angeles, we actually live in a world that is more hospitable to Jews than we ever could have imagined. As anti-Semitism has mainly receded, the final irony is that it's becoming easier than ever to lose the Judaism we've always cherished.

But if the U of T Press can embrace Jewish learning, then surely we want to do no less.

Just about no one excludes Jews anymore from whatever we want to do. We've got it good - so good that we can be as Jewish as we want to be.


P.S.

In addition to being anti-Semitic "back in the day," Toronto was also a boring city. Not much culture. Not much of anything after the sun set. Guess who helped turn it into the cosmopolitan place it is in 2016? It was the first Jewish mayor of the city - aman by the name of Nathan Philips! Elected in 1955, Philips (the Jew) laid the groundwork for Toronto's journey into the 21st century.


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