Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Happy National Poetry Month


The lynx emerges
from hiding
to track the white
snowshoe hare;
the chase that began
with a scent
ends in technicolor violence,
her fur sheared open
by fang and claw
steaming innards spilled out
beside her
like the contents of plastic shopping bags
she succumbs in silence
a finale
without protest
The 'hungry and homeless' man
whose sign asks for change
is as static as a still life
if he was ever alive
and dies before
a much larger
unmoved audience.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Ron Leshem at JPL

March 24, 2014 at 7:30 PM - The Mervin (Mesh) Butovsky Memorial Lecture presents Ron Leshem on “Israel and Hollywood” (in English) Ron Leshem will speak about Israel’s growing relationship with Hollywood over the past 19 years, and about his own award-winning novel Beaufort, which was the basis for the Oscar-nominated film of the same title. Leshem will also discuss shows like In Treatment and Homeland, both adapted from Israeli television, and how these shows are paving the way for Israel’s young TV industry to expand worldwide. As an executive for one of Israel’s main TV networks, Leshem oversaw the development of Homeland and many other hit shows and is currently developing adaptations for his own shows as a writer for NBC Universal. He will share his views on what makes a format universal, how to transfer a show to a foreign audience, and what everyone is looking for as “the next big hit.” Ron Leshem is an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter, and a winner of the Sapir Prize – Israel’s top literary award. Introduced by B. Glen Rotchin, Montreal novelist and book reviewer. Details here

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Philip Roth

Whatever you might say about Roth's portrayal of women, or that his adult male characters suffer from arrested development, no American writer has written more powerfully and honestly about the experience of male-adolescence and growing up in the post-war period (the following taken from The Writer's Almanac):

"Far from being the classic period of explosion and tempestuous growth, my adolescence was more or less a period of suspended animation. After the victories of an exuberant and spirited childhood — lived out against the dramatic background of America's participation in World War II — I was to cool down considerably until I went off to college in 1950. [...] From age 12, when I entered high school, to age 16, when I graduated, I was by and large a good, responsible, well-behaved boy. [...] The best of adolescence was the intense male friendships — not only because of the cozy feelings of camaraderie they afforded boys coming unstuck from their close-knit families, but because of the opportunity they provided for uncensored talk. These marathon conversations, characterized often by raucous discussions of hoped-for sexual adventure and by all sorts of anarchic joking, were typically conducted, however, in the confines of a parked car — two, three, four, or five of us in a single steel enclosure just about the size and shape of a prison cell, and similarly set apart from ordinary human society."

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Duchess of Cypress by one of my favourite writers

Bette Davis said, “Getting old is not for sissies.” That much is evident as we meet the often hilarious characters who roam the halls of Arleen Rotchin’s second novel... Throughout this entertaining window into what may lay ahead, Evelynn continues bopping us with one-two punches ... You can’t help but root for her because she gives truth to the Helen Hayes quote with which Rotchin begins her story: “Age is not important unless you’re a cheese.”

Scheduled for release in the Spring, my mom's hysterical new novel has already garnered its first rave review. My prediction: It will sell out its first printing before the launch. The protagonist Evelynn is completely original, a new kind of heroine for a generation of women looking fabulous and looking for love well into their seventh decade. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Today is the 150th anniversary of one of the most spoken about speeches in recent history that starts Four score and seven years ago, the Gettysburg Address. In tribute I re-post this 'love' poem which, for some strange reason makes reference to it.


I wonder if her eyes are brown
or blue (green is rare)
and if her hair is blond
and flowing or dark and curly
(poems by poets with shortcropped
hair generally don't appeal to me),
and if she writes sitting
at the kitchen table longhand
on coffee-stained sheets of foolscap
that scatter to the floor,
or by the window
in lined hardcover volumes
she numbers and places on the shelf
in her 'office'
when she's finished
(it matters)
and whether her room
is in a tiny apartment
in a crowded city
or a cottage in the country
(perhaps something grand and colonial
with a wrap-around porch),
I also picture her
not flat-chested
and imagine that sometimes,
when she is not getting it quite right
she touches herself
for reassurance
until the word comes:
Arriving at the end
of her poem
(like some great battle that has been won
or lost, I'm not sure which)
I think of Abe Lincoln
standing in front of 15,000
at a national cemetery in Gettysburg PA
orating those famous 272 words
and question
how anyone heard him
without a mic.

Monday, November 4, 2013


A very good session at the 3rd annual LE MOOD day of learning this past Sunday. What a super cool, happening event. Hundreds of (mostly young) people attending dozens of informative and enlightening sessions.  I even passed renowned environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki in the jam-packed hallway after our conference. My thanks to Zev Moses and the other organizers for doing a great job drumming up interest for "Whatever Happened to the Shmata Business." Congratulations to the other participants, Arleen Solomon Rotchin, Irwin Tauben and Jonathan Reisler (aka Stick) who passionately described the finer points of shmatology to a standing-room only audience. I've been asked to reproduce my brief opening remarks, so here they are: 

I do not believe it is hyperbole to state that manufacturing clothing was the single most important industry to the Jewish community of Montreal in the twentieth century. Yes, it is true that Jewish people have been active in a variety businesses including scrap metal, real estate, retail, and dry goods to name only a few. But no other industry employed a larger number of people, generated more wealth and afforded more opportunity, particularly to the Jews emigrating from Eastern Europe in the two great waves of immigration at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century, and the next wave after the Holocaust in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It was also critical for the third wave of immigration from North Africa in the 1960s and early 1970s.
When I’ve spoken to Jewish audiences in the past I sometimes ask a show of hands on the question how many people in the room have had immediate relatives ie. parents or grandparents, who worked in the garment industry. Invariably it is almost unanimous: No matter who we are today, what businesses or professions this generation we works in, the origins can be traced back to shmatas. The doctors, lawyers, accountants, MBAs, financial analysts, university professors, school teachers, architects, engineers and software developers of today are the progeny of cutters, sewers, shippers, patternmakers, designers, fabric salesmen, knitters and manufacturers. We often talk about the importance of the Bronfman family to the establishment of the institutional Montreal Jewish community. But I think it is more accurate to say that, at street level, the Montreal Jewish community was built on rags.
In the area where I work along Chabanel and the surrounding streets, giant buildings were built during the industry’s heyday in the 60s, 70s and 80s, almost 7 million square feet in all. There were between 50 and 100,000 employees working in almost 1000 garment companies in these buildings. Chabanel was reportedly the second most important generator of wealth on the island of Montreal on a per square foot basis after downtown.
            So, if for more than a century there is no other industry more important to the creation of the Montreal Jewish community; if a portrait of our community, our history, our character, our mentality, our families, our culture and way of thinking, is impossible without an understanding of the shmata industry, why have there not been more books written about it? More films made? More exhibitions? More academic study?
Shmatas, or rather the people who built the industry, have been given short shrift.
When Mordecai Richler started writing about life in the 1940s on the Main, Jews were initially either doubtful or incensed at his portrayal. Richler’s portrait, as truthful as it might have been, was considered unflattering and many Jews didn't like it being publicized. There was a sense of embarrassment and shame.
Have shmatas been given short shrift for a similar reason?
I remember as a child in the early seventies driving with my dad to his office at 9320 Saint-Laurent corner Chabanel on Saturday mornings. Those giant white brick structures loomed above the street filling me with a combination of awe, fear and loathing all at the same time. I won’t end up here, I told myself. I’m going to be better than this, better than a dress manufacturer. Is this sense of shame our dirty little secret? Why we don’t talk about the shmatta business? There is no Nobel prize given out for dress manufacturing. 
I wonder if a sense of wanting to redress an injustice is the reason why people like me and Johnny and Arleen are writing about what we experience in an industry that is so important to all of us. One thing is for sure, it's necessary.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Whatever Happened to the Shmata Business?

The Montreal shmata business will be the topic of discussion featuring an illustrious panel of shmatta mavens and yours truly at the upcoming Le Mood conference. Check out the details at the Facebook page, like us and join us. 

Presented by The Interactive Museum of Jewish Montreal "What Happened to the Shmata Business" takes place at Le Mood Festival, Sun. Nov. 3rd, 2pm, Room 9 at Le Mood. www.lemood.ca 

The garment trade or "Shmata Business" has defined Montreal's Jewish community for over a century. Nearly every Jewish Montrealer knows someone who works or worked in the industry. But over the past 15 years the Shmata business has undergone a major transformation, as retail giants have changed the way "shmatologists" do business. We'll talk...to a panel of Jews in this business who have witnessed these changes first-hand and either left the field or reinvented it. And we'll find out how this effects the Jewish community's identity.