Archive for the ‘Profiles’ Category

Joel Kovel: Overcoming Zionism pt.1

May 9, 2018



The writer Joel Kovel died on April 30. The New York Times thought so much of this scholar that last week they honoured him with a huge obituary. This was a guy you’d liked to have known

Sam Robert’s obit begins
Joel Kovel, a former Freudian psychiatrist who evolved into an apostle of what he called ecosocialism, a so-called green-and-red agenda against the environmental evils of globalization and in favor of the nonviolent eradication of capitalism, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 81.
Kovel was a spiritual quester his whole life.this was obvious in his 1991 book History and Spirit: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of Liberation. At the end of his life Kovel was baptized Anglican.




Roberts totally glides over Kovel’s brilliant evisceration of Zionism Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine (London and Ann Arbor: Pluto Press, 2007).In 2011 this review appeared the Journal of the Research Group on Socialism and Democracy.


Joel Kovel has given us an impressive and important book. Its first printing sold out without a single review, major or otherwise. Nevertheless word of this extraordinary work is spreading. The taboo in the United States (not Israel) against seriously discussing and criticizing Zionist Israel has been broken with the publication of Jimmy Carter’s bold book labeling the situation in the Occupied Territories “apartheid” and with the exposure by prestigious professors Mearsheimer and Walt -– in the London Review of Books after rejection by the Atlantic Monthly –- of the power of the Israeli lobby. Kovel, by focusing squarely on how to “overcome” Zionism, takes the discussion exactly where it needs to go from there. He writes beautifully, even poetically, not just on Zionism’s sordid history, but on its ideology, its ethics, and even on the terrible ecological devastation in Israel itself, where every river is polluted, some to lethal levels. And he writes with courage and hope.




Kovel “a jew from Brooklyn” believes that the creation of Israel in 1948, as a colony of settlers who established an exclusively Jewish and discriminatory state, has created a multi-faceted disaster -– “a dreadful mistake” -– that should be undone, with Israel de-Zionized and integrated into the Middle East. His solution is stated in the book’s subtitle and restated in the title of the last chapter: “Palesrael: A Secular and Universal Democracy for Israel/Palestine.” This is an elegant solution, and he lays out an action program to accomplish it.


Kovel writes that the ethical reference point for Jews is the tribal unit. Since ancient times they set themselves off as “a people apart,” chosen by Jehovah, with whom they have a covenant. In Kovel’s view, “Zionism’s dynamic was drawn from the most tribal and particularistic stratum of Judaism, and its destiny became the restoration of tribalism in the guise of a modern, highly militarized and aggressive state,” which they implanted in the center if Islam. Herein lies the tragedy.


At the turn of the 20th century, a Zionist conference in Vienna delegated several rabbis to travel to Palestine on a fact-finding mission. The rabbis cabled back, “the bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” Kovel writes incisively of what ensued. The “tremendous struggle” to dislodge Palestine’s inhabitants would involve three great difficulties:

the resistance of those who stood in the way and would have to be displaced; the exigencies of geo-politics; and one’s own inner being, which would have to be retooled from the self-image of an ethical victim to that of a ruthless conqueror. All of these obstacles could be dealt with by signing onto Western imperialism and capitalism.

Jewish suffering and persecution became justification for aggression in asserting the “outlandish claim to a territory controlled 2500 years ago by one’s putative ancestors.”




The Israelis took 78% of the territory in l948 and the remaining 22% in l967. The logic of Zionism –- to create an ethnically pure Jewish state -– led to organized terrorism; “the essentials had been put in place by the mid-1930s” and the opportunity came in l948. The leaders of Zionism, Chaim Arlosoroff, Vladimir Jabotinsky, and especially David Ben Gurion, quietly articulated the need to drive the Arabs out.


South African Prime Minister Henrik Verwoerd said in l96l something the liberals wouldn’t: “that the Zionists “took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. In that, I agree with them, Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.”




When the smoke lifted in l948, 531 Arab villages had been destroyed, some 750,000 Palestinians driven out. In l948 Menachem Begin (later Prime Minister of Israel) organized the dynamiting of the British headquarters in Jerusalem, killing 88 persons, including 15 Jews. That year also saw the terrorizing of the village of Deir Yassin. With Begin in command, Yitzhak Shamir -– who was also to become a PM and whose frankly fascist organization the Stern Gang had actually made overtures to the Nazis to create a Jewish state along totalitarian lines -–were part in the operation. The terror at Deir Yassin was a decisive factor in the Arab exodus. The ethnic cleansing had been clearly planned by the Zionist leadership, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has documented. Thus the Zionists established Israel with a crime against humanity.

Jon Meets Howard

March 25, 2018


And this world is all just one heart
Where love and fear is all that ever beats

So writes Jon Brooks in his classic song Gun Dealer

So many of Jon’s songs attempts to get to the heart of the human. He never stays clear of the dark side of humanity but generally comes down on the side of hope.

Often it is true that

People don’t think of others
People don’t think even of their mothers
People don’t think of others anymore –

And then there’s his riveting song of Romeo Dallaire’s nightmare in Rwanda. His song Kigali asks


Does your heart know the way home from Kigali
One night I asked Jesus if he knew the way
Does any heart here know the way home from Kigali




These are deep existential questions. Einstein asked the father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud in 1932. “Is it possible to control man’s mental evolution so as to make him proof against the psychosis of hate and destructiveness?

Freud said yes, but beyond international bodies the only real way is to ‘strengthen the urge for emotional affinity and love.”


Well Jon Brooks asked ask the same of my dear friend Howard Chandler the 89 year old living ember from Auschwitz. We met last Friday.



Howard graced my classes for 20 years . I knew what his response to Jon would be. The smile on Howard’s face still radiates hope for humanity as does the pensive Brooks who assures us at every gig:

Always remember you are loved


What’s the point?

December 27, 2017

I Want 2017 to Be Over. I Never Want to See Anything Like It Again
For both Trump and Netanyahu, their worst enemy may turn out to be 2018. At some point, even the worst nightmares do end. At some point, people do wake up

Bradley Burston Dec 26, 2017


I never want to see anything like it again.
Think back to a year ago at this time. Up there in his tower, Donald Trump was gearing up to speedily make the United States of America as bad as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel at its worst – from the top down, to turn it as nasty, as narrow-minded, as callous, as racist, as rigged, as smug, as small-minded, as undemocratic, as polarized, as paranoid, as deceptive, as corrupt, as bereft of checks and balances, as hostile to migrants and minorities and the media and the non-fundamentalist and the chronically ill and the left.
Which left Netanyahu’s government only one direction to go – even worse.
I wish I had never learned what I learned this year:


– Benjamin Netanyahu thinks Jews are stupid.
– Both Netanyahu and Donald Trump think evangelical Americans are saps.
– Both men are dealing in a dangerous, world-threatening, nationally suicidal, individually life-crushing form of make-believe. And both are certain they’re getting away with it. With everything.

– Both countries are now run by a man who thinks he should stay in power indefinitely. Even though a clear majority of his countries voters voted for someone else.
Why? Because this man believes – knows – that he has the right to rule. Because he’s white. Because he’s male. Because he’s right-wing. Because he’s so last century. Because he knows better. Because his rivals are pathetic. Because he’s so freaking good at making his people afraid and weak and passionately, proudly resentful of the outside world.
Because he tells his people: Don’t let these other people in. They’re not like you. You can’t trust them. They wanna cut you or maybe run you over and maybe invade your home and maybe rape you and your children and leave them to bleed out. They wanna take away your identity and take away your livelihood and, in the end, take away your country.

And these are two countries I deeply love.
Both now led by men transforming a never-realized dream of equality and freedom and justice, into a retrograde nightmare version of their countries worst self.

I’m sick to death of a year of asking myself terrible questions. Like:

– What’s the point of having a country of refuge built by refugees, whose leader vilifies immigrants, badmouths foreigners, denigrates asylum seekers, pretends to uphold religious freedom but in fact exalts the majority religion to the detriment of the adherents of minority faiths?
What’s the point of having a state of Israel, if it’s just so that Jews can have a place where they lord it over non-Jews? 
– What’s the point of a Jewish state if Jews have no place here, and certainly no home here, if they happen to be non-Orthodox, anti-settlement, supporters of equality and human rights for Palestinians and other Arabs?
– And what’s the point of having this United States of America, where the president cannot even allow anyone to kneel in thoroughly non-violent protest?
– What’s the point of having a United States so gerrymandered, so voter-suppressed, so friendly to Klansman and Nazi, so reverent to Bircher and birther, so offstage-managed by the Kochs and the Murdochs and the Sinclairs, and, especially, by Vladimir Putin, that any non-Republican challengers face a deck stacked six ways to Sunday against them.
– And, for that matter, what’s the point of a United States of America whose leader takes stand-down orders – on Syria for example – directly from the Kremlin?
What else did I learn this year?
And then there’s the matter of peace.
In a thousand ways, when he wasn’t honing his Trump imitation, Netanyahu was entrenching the occupation and rendering it permanent. In a thousand more he declared dead the idea of peace through two states, identifying settlements as fully part of Israel, declaring in the West Bank that “we are here to stay forever,” pledging to settlers that none would ever be uprooted, continuing to rule over and deny rights to millions of Palestinians by such methods as jailing children – and, were it up to his education minister – imprisoning for life a 16-year-old girl for the offense of slapping a soldier.

In a thousand more, Netanyahu brought the occupation and its apartheid and Jim Crow realities home with him, injecting it at every opportunity into what used to be called Israel proper. 
This was a year in which an Israeli government obsessed by the Holocaust signaled that it had nothing to say about genocide, as long as it was confined to potential arms customers like Myanmar.

Over this year which felt like an eternity, Netanyahu has tied his fate to Trump’s at every opportunity. Both men, under constricting investigations, need to gamble at this point, and Netanyahu has put all his money on Trump.
So much so, that Trump’s wars may now be Netanyahu’s wars, America’s isolation may be Israel’s isolation, Trump’s fate may be the fate of the Israeli right.
In a thousand ways, Trump has alienated the world with which America needs to trade. In a thousand more he has alienated the allies with whom America has for decades guaranteed its security. All the while, he has taken perverse pains to ignore evident signs of climate change, governing as if there were no tomorrow – a prediction which his scorn for science may be fast bringing closer to reality.
In all, both men seek to persevere by stoking their supporters’ worst nightmares, at the same time exploiting the despair and disarray of their opposition, promoting at every turn the fiction – the ultimate excample of  political make-believe – that they are, both of them, irreplaceable and invincible.


Which brings us to the end of the year. And the possibility – borne out by polls, by desperation, and by what may be a resurgence of activism, organization, and voting by the center and left – that, for both men, their worst enemy will turn out to be 2018.
At some point, even the worst nightmares do end.
At some point, people do wake up.


Bradley Burston is a Haaretz columnist and Senior Editor of Israel’s serious newspaper

Friendly arms dealer

September 26, 2017


Just good business!

And mind your own!

Israel Refuses to Stop Arms Sales to Myanmar, Despite Its Campaign of Rape, Torture and Massacres Against the Rohingya The state’s lawyer tells the High Court that it shouldn’t interfere in Israel’s foreign relations The state has not said that it will stop selling weapons to the military junta in Myanmar, despite recent reports and United Nations data on massacres the country’s military has perpetrated against the Rohingya minority, as well as systematic rape and expulsions.


Responding on Monday to a petition in the High Court of Justice from human-rights activists demanding an end to the arms sales, Shosh Shmueli, representing the state, said the court should not interfere in Israel’s foreign relations. That was a repetition of the preliminary response issued in March by the Defense Ministry, according to which the court had no standing in the “purely diplomatic” matter. r

Trump blows it on Israel

December 19, 2016

Democracy Now reported on Donald Trump’s shocking new choice for ambassador to Israel


President-elect Donald Trump isbeing slammed picking David Friedman to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel.Trump’s former bankrupty lawyer witth no diplomatic experience has been For years, Friedman s president of American Friends of Beit El Institutions, which has raised millions of dollars to support illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

According to a tax filing, Trump donated $10,000 to the group in 2003.He supports Israel’s Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and says he doesn’t think it would be illegal for Israel to annex the entire Palestinian territory—despite the fact that it would be blatantly illegal under international law. During the presidential campaign, Friedman also said he opposes a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine.

Daniel Kurtzer, who served President George W. Bush as ambassador to Israel, said, quote, “[Friedman] has made clear that he will appeal to a small minority of Israeli—and American—extremists, ignoring the majority of Israelis who continue to seek peace. Friedman’s appointment as ambassador runs directly contrary to Mr. Trump’s professed desire to make the ‘ultimate deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said. The liberal advocacy group J Street said, quote, “This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.”

Elie Wiesel “cheerleader for apartheid Israel”

July 3, 2016


The Nobel winner Elie Wiesel has died and the tributes are flowing in. Mr. Wiesel became famous in 1955  for his autobiographical novel  NIGHT a chilling account of Auschwitz , the most famous Nazi extermination centre.

Night for decades has become  a staple in high school courses for many good reasons. It has many powerful lessons to inculcate, maybe the most pressing is that the Nazi holocaust means never again —to anybody.

Most teachers however are not aware of the strong criticism Wiesel has received for his inability to include other than Jews under the umbrella of the word Holocaust. It belongs solely to Jews.

In the past few decades Wiesel’s Ulster has severely diminished for his failure to understand with Palestinian suffering

The late historian Howard Zinn, a fellow Jew called Wiesel’s refusal to include the suffering of non-Jews at the hands of the Nazis at Washington’s  Holocaust Museum, along with exhibits documenting Jewish suffering, one of the most “shameful moments” in recent memory. In that episode, Wiesel  described the inclusion of the terrible affliction of non-Jews by the Nazis in the Museum as an attempt to “falsify reality” and that such calls were tantamount to “stealing the Holocaust from us.”

This post by theologian Marc Ellis sums up a progressive Jewish view on Wiesel’s flawed witness:

Elie Wiesel is dead. The Holocaust world I cut my teeth on is coming to an end.

Is the world that cut its teeth on the Holocaust also coming to an end?

In their life and death, iconic figure like Elie Wiesel move us in different ways. The day after Wiesel’s death, it is time to take stock. In which direction are we heading?

I have been reading and writing about Wiesel for more than forty years. Though I have my arguments with Wiesel and other theologians and philosophers of the Holocaust, I never dismissed them as fakes or fools as some have. I will not do so today.

Those who explored the depths of the Holocaust were a great and deeply flawed generation. With reference to their hawkish stands on Israel, Wiesel and other Holocaust commentators simply did not understand what they had become involved in. If and when they understood, it was too late.

In the end, Wiesel was deeply corrupted by his use of the Holocaust he suffered so deeply from. Once an insurgent in Jewish life by insisting on the overriding importance of the Holocaust, in his later years, Wiesel became a cheerleader for an apartheid Israel and American military sanctions and intervention in the Middle East, all revolving around his support for Israel.


Wiesel became a caricature of himself. He trivialized the Holocaust he wrote so movingly about.

Through his invocations of the Holocaust, Wiesel achieved great wealth and garnered many honors; both compromised his witness. Politicians used him as the tributes accorded him in the coming days will no doubt show. But Wiesel and the Jewish establishment also used politicians to further entrench and extend their power and influence. So it goes, it seems.

We Jews live after the Holocaust and after Israel. By after Israel, I mean what Israel has done and is doing to the Palestinian people. Those of us who live in the shadow of the Holocaust – and Israel – must ask ourselves the same questions we ask of Wiesel. What is our witness in the world? Has our standing in the world and what we represent corrupted us?

Elie Wiesel was hardly alone in becoming so stuck in Holocaust suffering that he failed to realize or care about what Jewish power was and is doing to the Palestinian people. We, the Jewish people, averted our eyes. We, the Jewish people, became corrupted through our use of unjust power against others.

Through Wiesel, Christians became heavily involved in the meaning of Holocaust suffering and support for the state of Israel without regard for the plight of Palestinians. Christians averted their eyes. Christians became corrupted through support of Jewish power against others.
So Elie Wiesel’s death must become our challenge. After the Holocaust and Israel, what are we to do? Do we really understand who we have become?

Once understood, we must stand for justice, at a personal and, if need be, at a collective cost. Lest we become other than whom we are called to be.

Here lies the unintended aspect of Elie Wiesel’s flawed witness. In the beginning Wiesel and others who reflected on the Holocaust invoked solidarity with the suffering as the key lesson of the Holocaust. True, again from the beginning, Jews were a priority. Yet, this solidarity also extended to those suffering after the Holocaust. Missing, of course, were Palestinians.

With the ascendancy of the Holocaust and Israel as the epitome of the Jewish and Christian witness, Wiesel helped ignite Jewish and Christian resistance to the oppression of the Palestinian people. By making the Holocaust and Israel central to the destiny of the Jewish people, Jewish and Christian resistance to Israel’s abuse of power was destined to take hold.

Today this resistance is exploding. Among others, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Christian struggle for divestment in a variety of denominational settings are deeply indebted to the flawed witness of Elie Wiesel.

As Elie Wiesel is honored and buried in the coming days, we would do well to reflect on other iconic figures of our day and those who use them for their own ends. Unlike iconic figures, injustice cannot be buried.
Resistance is always waiting in the shadows of unjust power. Thus our challenge as Elie Wiesel – and his generation – is laid to rest.

Nick Rico now batting in a higher league

March 30, 2015


Every city has a Rico and we just lost ours.

Nick Rico was one of those guys you see in every major North American city, an old sandlotter who hung around long after his glory days to play it forward with the next generation of baseball nuts. I was just one of the many whose lives Nicky touched and it had hardly anything to do with baseball.
Two years ago a bunch of us got together to thank “the Reek” for his friendship. I lied to him and told him that a bunch of old ball players were getting together at the Canadiana, a west end banquet joint. He had no idea it was about him.That’s the kind of man Nick was. But I knew from our friendship that the shadows were lengthening for him and in Arthur Miller’s words, ”attention,attention must be paid to such a person.” We needed to thank Nick personally. and so the old players came out in droves to thank the lovely man.
Some were there whom Nick had tutored on their way to pro ball, others were there simply because Nicky was one of the nicest guys on the planet, man always ready to help, a guy who never took himself too seriously, who hated humbug of any type and whose values were rock solid.
There were a special few, people like myself Bobby Miwa, Joe Sawchuk who really knew the talent of Nick Rico.
When he had returned from his 5 years in pro ball, he naturally gravitated to the man who had impacted many of us, one of the first inductees into the Canadian baseball Hall of Fame, Carmen Bush. Known alternatively as “the Dictator”, “the Brain”, “the Baron of the Pits”, the “Sage of Bellwoods” Carm had given his life to kids in a ramshackle old club in little Italy near where the Rico family near Trinity-bellwoods Park. Nicky was just one of the many beneficiaries who lucked out when they played for Carmen and Columbus Boys Club.

Sister 2
Having a cat bird’s seat on Carm’s life I knew that he literally never made more than $10,000 a year and supplemented his meagre income by refereeing and umpiring. Hard to believe but the Knights of Columbus got Carm cheap. And 15 years after he had retired at a celebration of a 1944 Juvenile hockey team the Grand Knight showed up with some “guilt money” and ponied up another grand for their former employee. A man of tremendous integrity who turned down lucrative offers of his “gumbah” the Italian realtor Sam Sorbara to “stay with his little Wops” at the Club. So Nicky came home to Carm. Many of course came “home to Carm” including myself and young priest-to-be whom Carm introduce me to t in 1960,Tom McKIllop.
After 5 years chasing his baseball dream in towns like Bristol,Conn, Gastonia, Georgia, Mooresville, North Carolina, Lawton,Oklahoma, Ogden,Utah Nick landed back in his hometown ‘working the debit” in insurance and selling pasta for Primo. At this time we were playing for Carm and there was Nicky at the nightly post-mortems regaling us with his hilarious stories of life in the minors.
We would watch him playing third base and pitching for Clintons in the senior league while we were juveniles and juniors. We never saw anything like him.Yes he actually did bounce a ball off the clubhouse roof in straight centrefield about 450 feet from home plate. We never had seen a hitter like Nick. He would just laugh.”after pro ball, Ted it’s like hitting change ups all game long.’
Then he became our coach as we moved into senior ball but for years it was simply the bull sessions, the post mortems which remain. Our peerless leader Carmen Bush had set the festive board for all of us including “Niccolo” whom he loved as a son. Carm made us realize that the game is simply the place where we meet as fellow humans in relationship; that the post-mortem was just as important as the score board , that friendships crafted between foul lines were the really important things.
We never lost touch. Many of us stopped coaching but not Nicky. He would answer any call to help a young player including the Toronto born National League MVP Joey Votto. It turns out many of us unconsciously had taken Polonius advice in the Bard’s Hamlet
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

We could never let Nicky go.We knew where he hung out at High Seas Fish and Chips on Islington Ave. We came regularly to bask in the warmth of his smile.Nicky washed dishes there but just as often he was the maitre d’ of an old timers’ reunion. High Seas had become the terminus of a secular pilgrimage, an urban monastery where friendship was the raison d’etre. I remember bringing Fungo Joe Irvine and Tom McKillop out to see Nicky, friends who went back to the old Viaduct League of 1950—and McKillop had the pictures to prove it.

And then that night in December 2012 when we came to thank Nick.He had no idea that it was about him because it was never about him. In his extemporaneous remarks all he could talk about was his debt to Carmen.”Nobody he met in all of baseball could compare with him.’
A few days before he died we talked. Typical Nick.No complaints. Lotta weight loss and pretty weak, then the inevitable decline. Over the years we would often would talk about Carmen and how we missed him. Now, Nick has gone as well “to the higher league”, a true ikon of the Columbus Boys Club simple motto: “the other guy.”

Nick will be buried on Holy Thursday.Something appropriate about this.

Ted Schmidt (“Hector”) turns 100

January 15, 2009


sc00031810A special Mozart mass with a Hallelujah chorus was celebrated in heaven today in gratitude for the life of F Hector “Ted” Schmidt. “Hector “ as he was mockingly known by his five sons turned 100 today.

Born on January 15, 1909 to Sarah “Sadie” Downs and Fred Schmidt of 460 Palmerston Blvd, Ted was the eldest of 3 boys, Ted, Goldie and Jack. Goldie succumbed to scarlet fever in 1915 while the other two grew up as great friends to each other.

Hector’s wisest move was his marriage to Eileen Harrison, the belle of OCE as she was known, in 1935.They produced five sons who like their father went to St. Peter’s elementary school and St. Michael’s College  school.

Hector spent 50 years on Bay St as a trader. On his retirement on Dec. 16, 1982 he was presented with a silver tray for his “loyal service.” On this last day on the floor, surrounded by grandchildren, he was asked to sum up his feelings about his illustrious career, he opined, “Nice to be rid of the pimps and whores.”

This bon mot, fairly typical of Hector, aptly summed up his unique take on life, often described as “ahead of his time,” “philosophical” “starkly realistic approaching cynicism”. One wag labeled his worldview “sardonic”.

A university drop out, Hector was an autodidact, widely read and a man with little artifice and less patience for poseurs, ponces, “frauds flacks and phonies”. He exhibited particular scorn for “obsequious prelates” and “professional Catholics”. His greatest gift which he happily bequeathed to his five sons was  his capacity for bull shit detection. In this area he was described as “non pareil”(without equal).

Along with his extraordinary wife, Eileen,  he presided over legendary Sunday  meals where wit and bonhomie were the main servings. Friends and relatives were often present  at these magical meals which resembled in turn intellectual free-for-alls, shouting matches, outrageous jokes and uncontrollable laughter, ripostes, put downs peppered with vulgarisms and lively conversation. In general these evenings were a combination verbal bath and feast. Calling them moments of grace would not be stretching the truth—if one truly understood what incarnation was.

Christmas was always his favourite time. No Yule would pass without a reading of Jonathan Swift’s, On Lawyers:

It is a maxim among these lawyers that whatever has been done before, may legally be done again: and therefore they take special care to record all the decisions formerly made against common justice, and the general reason of mankind. These, under the name of precedents, they produce as authorities to justify the most iniquitous opinions; and the judges never fail of directing accordingly.

In pleading, they studiously avoid entering into the merits of the cause; but are loud, violent, and tedious, in dwelling upon all circumstances which are not to the purpose. For instance, in the case already mentioned; they never desire to know what claim or title my adversary has to my cow; but whether the said cow were red or black; her horns long or short; whether the field I graze her in be round or square; whether she was milked at home or abroad; what diseases she is subject to, and the like; after which they consult precedents, adjourn the cause from time to time, and in ten, twenty, or thirty years, come to an issue.

It is likewise to be observed, that this society has a peculiar cant and jargon of their own, that no other mortal can understand, and wherein all their laws are written, which they take special care to multiply; whereby they have wholly confounded the very essence of truth and falsehood, of right and wrong; so that it will take thirty years to decide, whether the field left me by my ancestors for six generations belongs to me, or to a stranger three hundred miles off.”

Only on regaining his breath would he then with the barest encouragement recite his annual hilarious imitation of James C. Cardinal McGuigan’s boiler plate sermon on the birth of Jesus. Holding his nose to approximate the prelate’s high nasal voice, he would begin “2000 years ago in a little stable near Bethlehem…” Then it would be his sons turn to shriek with great delight.

One memorable  evening with wives, friends and needling offspring in attendance, and with a silly party head adorning his florid dome, he wondered aloud why anybody would pay for entertainment when all this family-generated mayhem  came  for free.

Another time he simply looked around the table and coming as close as he could to expressing his bountiful love for his  critical offspring,  he laid out a quote from the Book Of Samuel, “And he gathered unto himself all the malcontents and discontents and repaired to the cave at Adullam.” 1 Sam 22:1

Was he King Saul, the patriarch fearing a royal usurpation by another David a pretender to the throne? Did he see us his children as “malcontents and discontents”? Or as is most probable, was he in fact proffering a benediction on his well-educated sons, all busy tilting at societal windmills?

On his 50th wedding anniversary in 1985, a year before his death, he reveled at being surrounded by his large family and grandchildren. He roared with laughter when his eldest son revealed to all Hector’s favourite poem, a two-liner by Irving Layton.

Give all your days to the study of the Talmud.

By night practice shooting from the hip.”

Hector’s 100th birthday is being celebrated by his children, wives and any grandchilden who can make it.

Remembering Fintan on the solstice

December 22, 2008

Fintan the Unforgettablefintan1

On the morning of the winter solstice , the darkest night of the year,Fintan Kilbride slipped peacefully away in the palliative unit of Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital. The quiet man who had brought so much light and hope into the lives of the young here and abroad left behind a legacy of such overwhelming goodness that its bountiful overflow will be felt for decades to come.

Raised in Tipperary with his seven siblings two of whom joined him in the priesthood, Fintan joined the Holy Ghost Fathers where he spent the next twenty-nine years teaching in Trinidad and building schools and hospitals in eastern Nigeria. Expelled  in 1970 he worked in New York where he met  and married Kenise Murphy in 1973. Moving to Toronto Fintan began his teaching career at Neil McNeil High school in 1975. It was here that many of us came to know and love the quiet Irishman with the sly and gentle  humour and the passionate love for the poor which burned like a white incandescent flame beneath the unflappable exterior.

It was during these years that we saw another side of Fintan. simply stated he was one of the greatest athletes any of us had ever encountered. As Fr. Mick Doyle said in his eulogy,”Any sport that required a bat and a small moving object, Fintan mastered.” An outstanding hurler in Ireland, an incredible tennis player and golfer, Fintan was world class at racquet sports, squash and racket ball. 

His wife Kenise used to tell the story of two friends who were at the 19th hole of a golf course in Ireland, talking to the bartender.

“No one ever beats par on the 16th hole,” he said, “except the pro here. Well, there was, once, one man who did, a young priest from Nigeria.”

Choosing to concentrate on racket ball, several times he won the North American Seniors’  championship defeating men years younger than himself. Finding little competition at his own age level, he would drop down and  defeat those in the next age bracket-until the Kilbride rule, still in tact, was invoked. You can only compete in one division. Inevitably coming home with the silver trophy, we would have to pry it out of him that he had indeed won again. “I did OK,” was all he would say.

While at Neil McNeil  Fintan started Students Crossing Borders an international cooperative education program which  introduce students to the realities of the Third world  and their responsibilities as privileged brothers and sisters. It was in this context that Fintan touched the lives of the Kielberger brothers,Mark and Craig who counted him as a direct inspiration in their own work in Free the Children.

As well Fintan was active in Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ), a group of teachers in the then Separate School Board whose very creation (1978) and existence proved how comfortable teachers had become in their middle class lives. TSJ had been formed to remind  colleagues that teaching under the banner of the Cross was a vocation and not a job; that it entailed consistent risks for those on the margins here and elsewhere. Fin was not only an enthusiastic member but he embodied for us what the world’s’ bishops had stated in 1971, that “justice was constitutive element of the gospel.In 1979, Fintan was one of the founders of the (Now) Ecumenical Stations of the Cross, Toronto’s ongoing attempt to insist that Good Friday is not sentimental nostalgia but a continuous fact in our city and our world.

In the 80s Fin became an active and enthusiastic member of Catholic reform groups recognizing that the Church under the John Paul ll pontificate had  begun to default on the promises of Vatican ll. The restoration severely disappointed him particularly in its failure to come to grips with the decline of priests all over the world. He was a very forceful spokesman for Corpus, the organization of resigned priests who challenged the mandatory celibacy role  and wanted the priesthood open to women.

Retirement was not a word in the Kilbride lexicon. Forced to leave teaching in 1992, Fintan took his passion for the Third World into supply teaching , exposing countless students to  the hopes and dreams of the poor in Jamaica and Haiti. He was always on the road driving medicines and hospital supplies from Detroit to Miami where they would be shipped to Central America. At 78 and thirteen years officially retired, he was named the top Catholic teacher in Ontario and received the Marion Tyrrrel award for his social justice work. Shortly after receiving the award in 2005,Fin fell ill with a then undiagnosed illness With his well known iron will he continued to attend his Saturday morning Craic (Irish,good conversation) sessions with like-minded cronies in a coffee house in the the Beach.

Inevitably as the cancer drained him he was taken to the palliative unit at Princess Margaret. Sitting by his bedside a week before he died, his tremendously supportive wife Kenise remarked to me what a privilege it had been to spend the last thirty 33 years with this good man. We who knew him as a close and loving  friend can only utter our silent amens. The quote from Francis of Assisi on Fintan’s mass card perfectly summed up his rich life.” Go teach all nations-if necessary use words.”

Studs,the dignity man

November 3, 2008

“Community organizers like Obama know what’s going on. If they remember. The important thing is memory. You know in this country, we all have Alzheimer’s. Obama has got to remember his days as an organizer. It all comes back to the neighborhood. Well I hope the election is a landslide for Obama.” – Studs Terkel

Studs Terkel  is gone at 96; he died on Oct,.30, a legendary democrat in the best sense of that word—a questioner, a no nonsense purveyor of the right question. at the right time.He called this,”the impertinent question.” You know the ones never asked to gurus like Alan Greenspan, the ones which used to be asked by real newspaper people.

His books were oral histories respectful paeans of praise to ordinary people whose experience he respected. Studs was a true democrat, plumbing the lives of those who built America asking each democracy—asking each  what it was like—whether it was the Depression (Hard Times), The  war (The Last Good War) , The Great Divide-Second Thoughts on the American Dream and  my favourite: Working .

Studs had a fine ear himself, witness his reflection on Working: It is a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than boredom. in short for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying. Perhaps immortality is part of the quest.

Studs had a great religious sense though he called himself an atheist, of honouring the human. He was seldom let down by the poetry, dignity and insight that ordinary folks had. To Studs there were no ‘ordinary’ people.

Listen To Robert Acuna, a farm worker whom he interviewed for Working:

“Working in the fields is not in itself a degrading job. It’s hard, but if you’re given regular hours, better pay, decent housing, unemployment and medical compensation, pension plans–we have a very relaxed way of living. But the growers don’t recognize us as persons. That’s the worst thing, the way they treat you. Like we have no brains. They have only a wallet in their head. The more you squeeze it, the more they cry out” .