Welcome to The New TrueTalkRadio.com

Welcome to the all new Truetalkradio.com. It took months, but here we are with a fresh new site, new content and lots of fun.

I want to take this opportunity to thank tech guru Jason Mayoff for all his hard work in getting this site up and running. Without him, we’d still be in the stone ages. We have some exciting bloggers who have joined our team, some of them you know from The Howie Silbiger Show, others, who have recently joined our team are exclusive content suppliers for Truetalkradio.

Our blogs cover topics ranging from being a single father with twins to politics, technology and even relationships. Our goal is to offer the widest spectrum of opinions, ideas and to get you, the reader to think.

On January 22, 2012, if technology permits, we will be launching our online radio stream. Much like our blogs, the online radio will be engaging, entertaining and informative. We will offer original programming produced exclusively for our online radio station, some syndicated programming as well as some great music and my personal favorite, old time radio, radio plays from the 1920-60s.

I invite you to enjoy our content, but more than that, I invite you to join our team. If you are a blogger or produce an online radio show and you think your content will interest us, drop us a line. We’re constantly looking for fresh material and talent.

Enjoy the new site and don’t forget to tune into The Howie Silbiger Show – Sundays from 6-9 pm on CJRS 1650 am in Montreal or online at www.radio-shalom.ca – You can email Howie at howie@truetalkradio.com

The Cost of Being Jewish

This article appeared in the latest issue of La Voie Sepharad and JMag:

The Cost of Being Jewish
By Howie Silbiger

At the beginning of July, Newsweek Magazine, a weekly American news publication, ran a column entitled ‘The Cost of Being Jewish’. In the article, Lisa Miller, the magazine’s religion editor complained that the cost of being Jewish, essentially synagogue membership, tuition and kosher food was driving mainstream Jews away. She complained that the Jewish establishment wasn’t doing enough to curb the costs and middle to low class Jews were feeling the brunt, with some families having “to choose between Hebrew school and math tutoring.”

A 2009 American study reported that the average cost of synagogue membership in the US is $1,100.00, it’s not much less in Canada. Between synagogue membership, seats for the high holidays, donations and life cycle events the extra costs could run into the thousands of dollars, quite a chunk of after tax dollars (although some, but not all of it is tax deductible) for an average middle class family.
But money isn’t everything and if you make the decision to follow a lifestyle, you have to accept the intricate costs involved with it. No one said commitment to a higher being would be cheap, but is the cost worth the payback?

Most Montreal modern orthodox synagogues seem to care less about the religious aspect of the synagogue and are focussing more on the fundraising and programming aspect of their institutions. You see it on Shabbat morning when, in a lot of big synagogues, the chazzan is instructed to be finished ‘no later than 11:30 am’. In order to achieve that goal, these synagogues have cut out interaction with the audience, meaning no circulating the Torah for the audience to kiss, no handshaking with the Rabbi or Chazzan, a shortened Rabbis speech, no page numbers being called and a race to finish mussaf.

What these policies tend to do, however, is suck the life out of what is already a boring prayer service. If an unaffiliated Jew walked into one of these synagogues, the lightning speed and lack of intellectual stimulation would drive the Jew back to the shopping mall, ski hills and/or golf courses.

This unfortunate trend was started in Montreal by a group of Jewish school educated 40 somethings who felt the prayer service dragged on too long. They wanted to be out early on Shabbat. So with little consultation, they made the decisions, changed the policies and forced everyone attending their synagogues to follow their rules. This has led to unhappiness and confusion amongst synagogue goers and dissent amongst the ranks. Believe it or not, when people pay thousands of dollars a year to be members and only show up for Shabbat and some Yom Tovim, they want their money`s worth, or at minimum, a chance to shake the Rabbi`s hand. Its always baffling to then hear these same policy makers wonder why their synagogues are leaking membership.
But the monetary aspect is not the only cost of being Jewish. There is a social cost. We live in a secular world, most Jews are assimilated to a certain extent and do want what is perceived as the acceptance of their neighbours.

There`s an old joke often told around Christian holiday time: A Jewish man is walking home from work and sees a neighbour decorating a Christmas tree. He waves at the neighbour who stops his work and invites the man into his house for a cup of tea. Upon entering the house, the Jewish man immediately smells the turkey baking in the oven, cookies on the counter, a huge tree set up in the living room with dozens of presents under it, stocking hanging on the mantle, festive colourful decorations all over the house and holiday themed music. The Jewish man is taken aback, he`s shocked at how welcoming and fun the Christian holiday is. His neighbour notices his shock and asks, `why are you surprised?’ The Jew responded, ‘well in Judaism all of our holidays are about us being killed, we’re always mourning, it’s basically, we were killed, let’s eat, oh we were killed, repent, let’s eat.”

Not an overly funny joke, but one that truly highlights the problem with marketing Judaism. We get so caught up in the nitty gritty details that we forget the big picture. It isn’t a surprise that the North American Jews are assimilating and intermarrying in epic numbers, orthodox Judaism has given them nothing to hold onto, nothing to grasp. In fact, over the past few centuries, with a few exceptions, Orthodox Judaism has become an exclusionary club where only the privileged few are allowed to join.

On a recent radio program on Radio Shalom Montreal, the question of Jewish unity was raised. About 30 calls were received, most of them from disgruntled Jews upset at Orthodox Jews. The reasons for their dismay was clear, at one point or another they had the opportunity to interact with the orthodox community and were shunned, ignored or not welcomed.

The story is always the same, non-orthodox Jews entering orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods and being stared at by the kids. Overhearing the kids asking their parents if they are Jewish and hearing the parents answer “they are Jewish non-Jews.” This kind of self righteous, egotistical, exclusionary and repulsive behaviour is another cost of being Jewish. The message sent: not only are Jews hated by non-Jews in general, they are also hated by other segments of Jews. It always strikes me as odd that these segments of Judaism that reject other segments of Judaism still have the audacity to moan and wail on Tish Ba’av about the destruction of the Beit Hamigdash (Jewish Holy Temple) but at the same time don’t realize that the Temple was destroyed due to the unjustified hatred between Jews. Essentially, if that’s the case, then these Jews are part of the problem, they are standing in the way of the coming of Messiah and the building of the third Temple in Jerusalem.
But inter-Jewish relationships or lack thereof are not the only cost of living in a secular world and being Jewish. There’s also a societal cost.

Since the beginning of time, Jews have not been well accepted in lands that they did not control. When Hashem gave the Jews the Torah on Mount Sinai and effectively created the chosen people, other nations were upset. They couldn’t accept the fact that this small nation was Hashem’s favourite. It was the exact reaction expected when a father tells the rest of his children that his favourite child is a certain son. Resentment sets in and other children vie for the affection of their Father.
Christians got around the problem by creating the New Testament, a book of the teachings of a Jewish man, whom the Christians claimed was the Jewish Messiah. Jesus, according to Christian liturgy, ushered in a new testament and agreement with Hashem. Basically, after Jesus and his teachings, Hashem had named a new chosen people. But what to do with the problem of the old chosen people? The ones who rejected the New Testament, the ones who didn’t accept Jesus as messiah?
Thus started a series of inquisitions, persecutions and conquests all targeting Jews. Many Jews, in order to survive, converted to Christianity. Many others fled, fought back or died in the name of the Torah. But Judaism survived.

Then came the Moslems, who through a prophet named Mohammed, received another new testament from Hashem. The Koran was a new set of laws which essentially named Islam as the new chosen ones. The question arose, what to do about the Jews, the original chosen people and the Christians, the new chosen people?

The answer was simple, through a series of Jihads over centuries, Islam tried to convert Jews and Christians to their way of life. While moderately successful, Islam is the largest religion in the world, Jews and Christians still remain and the Jihad continues to this very day.

So economically, religiously and socially, Judaism appears to be nonsensical, on the surface it looks as though the costs outweigh the benefits greatly. If it were a business, any smart businessman would shut it down immediately. Yet, Judaism has survived thousands of years, countless persecutions and attempted genocides and explosions of intermarriage and assimilation.

Nineteenth Century American humorist and author Mark Twain, commenting on the recently held first World Zionist Congress in Basel, noted that Theodor Herzl had enunciated a plan to ‘gather the Jews of the world in Palestine, with a government of their own – under the suzerainty of the Sultan, I suppose.’
Twain responded: “I am not the Sultan, and I am not objecting; but if that concentration of the cunningest brains in the world are going to be made into a free country (bar Scotland), I think it would be politic to stop it. It will not be well to let that race find out its strength. If the horses knew theirs, we should not ride anymore.” He then concluded with the oft quoted “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then . . . passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts. … All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

Twain failed to realize the same thing many North American and even most world Jews still fail to realize. Being a Jew isn’t about how much it monetarily costs or the hardships of following the rules or how much land Jews control and who conquered what when. Judaism is not about any of those things, it is simply about a stubbornness to follow the word of Hashem.

Jewish stubbornness is the secret of Jewish survival.

When Jews of Spain were faced with conversion or death, they converted but, facing the penalty of death, still held secret Friday night candle lighting and dinners in the basements of their homes to commemorate Shabbat.

In Russia, when the Cossacks banned religion, and practicing Jews were being persecuted, facing the punishment of firing squads or worse, they still built secret cheders (learning centers) so that they could teach their children the basics of Judaism. So the religion that Hashem passed down to his chosen people could survive.
When, in the 1930s and 40s, Jews were being corralled into ghettos and concentration camps, facing certain death, many snuck in scraps of paper with prayers on them and prayed everyday. In the Ghettos, Jewish mothers gathered their children and the children of their neighbours and gave lessons on Torah and Judaism, because even in the face of death, there was an off chance that one of these children would survive and continue to spread the word of Hashem.

In the 1970s and 80s, in Russia, facing death or life of hard labour in Siberia, men like Anatoly Sharansky held onto their Judaism, were viciously punished, tortured and imprisoned, but remained steadfast and stubborn holding onto their ancestral traditions.

Today we live in a free society, we fret day in and day out, complain about the high cost of living as a Jew.

Everytime anyone brings it up to me, I immediately think about the Jews cowering in their basements, hoping and praying that the Spanish royal guards don’t see the flickering of the candles, of the Jews teaching aleph bet to children in Russia with one ear to the door, listening for the stomping of soldiers boots, and to the Jews, who facing the Nazi firing squads and gaz chambers, still had the courage and stubbornness to scream out Shema Yisroel.
I think about Anatoly Sharanksy, who never dreamed while sitting and being tortured in a KGB prison, that he would ever be a cabinet minister in Israel free to watch the fall of Communism.

When I think about these Jews, their struggle and their stubbornness, I realize that we don’t have it all that bad.

Howie Silbiger is a freelance writer based in Montreal. He is the host of the Howie Silbiger Show on the Truetalk Radio Network, heard in Montreal, Sunday through Tuesday at 6 p.m. on 1650 Am CJRS Radio Shalom Montreal. He can be reached by email at howie@truetalkradio.com

Freedom of Speech

I have been hosting radio for approximately 11 years, before that for 7 or 8 years I worked as a print journalist and commentary writer. I’ve worked for commercial stations and am currently at 1650 AM Radio Shalom, the Montreal Jewish community radio station. In my entire career, I have never experienced a phenomenon that seems to permiate the listeners of this radio station. It’s not a bad thing, most radio stations would love to have their listeners infected with this infliction, at least it proves a listenership that listens and cares, for me and my show, I appreciate it, it makes us feel good that people want to be part of the show.

The affliction I’m talking about is very familiar with people who work within the framework of the Jewish community (and dare I say any minority community). Synaogue presidents, rabbis and even cantors are on the receiving end of people who suffer from this and there is no cure.

The affliction I’m referring to is the constant and sometimes annoying habit of some Montreal Jewish Community members who think they know how to do your job better than you. Always critical, never helpful, the people afflicted with this virus feel that they HAVE to call or approach you with severe and heavy criticism over how you do your job.

It never fails. Moments after I turn on the microphone at Radio Shalom and start my three times a week 2 hour news/commentary show, we get a phone call or an email chastizing us for covering a controversial topic. If the topic is very controversial, the phone calls can add up to dozens or multiple dozens, as they did last week when I tackled, what seemed to me to be a no-brainer issue, the Crown Heights Chabad Community standing in solidarity with a thief.

So many calls poured into the station that the executive committee called an emergency meeting to discuss how to handle the situation. What amazes me, however, is that the open line show everyone was complaining about only received three or four calls in the entire 2 hour broadcast. I have to point out that not all the calls came from Chabadniks.

This leads me to believe the following:

1. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community does not believe in freedom of speech. Many of the callers to the management of the station demanded that I be censored, removed from the air or forced to apologize to the Chabad community.

2. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community is comprised of cowards. How else do you explain that members of said community decided to call everyone and their uncle associated with the radio station, but refrained from calling me, either on the show, or at my private extension at the station.

3. The Montreal Orthodox Jewish Community doesn’t understand the concept of radio. Radio is a NOW media. It’s hard hitting and instant.

Last night I covered the unbelievable and unfortunate story of Shirel Attar, a 14 year old Montreal girl who was brutally murdered. Her 18 year old brother Maor Attar was charged with 1st degree murder in the case. I could have come onto the air and detailed the bloody and horrific events of the murder. I could have gotten friends of both the alleged perpetrator and victim on the air with me to diafy the victim and demonize the alleged perpetrator. I could have made the story into a sensational media event, released information we have that is not publicly known, shamelessly promote the show and experienced a great ratings influx. I chose not to.

I felt that as a Jewish radio station, we had the responsibility to cover the murder, but at the same time dignify the sadness of the event and respect the shock and grief of the family and community. So I approached the show differently, with only mentioning the victims name once in the entire two hours, I posed the following three questions:

1. What lessons can we learn as a community from a horrific act of violence such as this one?

2. As a parent, will this event make you think twice about leaving your young teens at home alone?

3. As a parent, will this event make you take a good long hard look at your kids and perhaps make you recognize a problem that you didn’t see before?

It was inevidable, three calls came in almost instantly berating me for touching the topic. Caller Jacob pointed out that the girl wasn’t even buried yet and here I am talking about the case on air. Another caller chastised me for allowing a listener to express that perhaps the young man who is accused of committing the murder had psychological problems (which by the way is being questioned by police authorities as pointed out by a front page story in today’s Montreal Gazette). The third caller accused me of being insensitive to the family of the victim.

All three callers suggested that perhaps I chose to do the show too soon and I should have waited at least two weeks for the family to get up from shiva before I even looked at the topic.

Two weeks is an eternity when it comes to topical news shows. What these callers failed to understand and what the Montreal Jewish Community continues to fail to understand is that we live in an instant world.

Within minutes of the first reports of the murder, I had the name of the victim, certain personal information about the victim and the alleged perpetrator and speculation from people who knew them that the brother perhaps killed the sister. If I had received the information an hour earlier, I would have reported the event on Monday night’s radio show.

On The Howie Silbiger Show we talk about things going on right now. When the Neturai Karta was protesting in Cote St Luc, we were on the air urging people to go out and counter protest, when anything big happens in the Jewish community we are there.

The community will have to get used to instant inforation, that is the nature of radio, that is the nature of my show and it is not going to change.

The Anatomy of Assimilation – The Montreal Y will open on Shabbat

As appeared in the September 2009 issue of JMAG Magazine:

by Howard Silbiger

In the 1920s German Jews had ascended to the top of society. They were the aristocratic symbol of wealth, culture and physique. These German Jews were loyal to Germany, they identified as German before Jewish. Judaism to them was an inherited bother, they were more concerned with being accepted and part of the mass society, fully assimilated with very little, save some Yiddish theatre, trace of their Jewish heritage.

When Hitler came to power in the early ‘30s, these Jews didn’t worry. In their mind, they were too important to the German people to be persecuted, heck they were Germans who happened to be Jewish. Unfortunately, as assimilated as they were, they were still Jews and they were still shipped off to the various death camps to be slaughtered.

Fast forward nearly 70 years and it is amazing how the world is different but Jewish attitudes are the same.

For over a century, Jewish institutions had a tradition of remaining closed on Shabbat. With a few minor exceptions in the 1950s, the tradition has held steady. In fact in 2004, after a lengthy debate on whether to open on Shabbat or not, the board of directors of the Montreal YMYWHA decided to remain closed, their reason expressed in an official press release that stated that the Board of Directors of the Y “acknowledge the traditions and the norms of the Montreal Jewish community including the strong belief that Jewish institutions such as the Y should remain closed on Shabbat.”

This strong commitment to Judaism acted as a pillar for the Jewish Community. Montreal was one of the only Jewish communities on the continent who were able to point to our strong heritage and protection of the fabric of Jewish values within our society.

The fabric was shredded in early August 2009, when the current Board of Directors of the Jewish Y voted, nearly unanimously, to open their gym on Shabbat. The move didn’t come as a huge surprise; it had been brewing at the Y for years. In fact, in a little under 10 years, the Y had voted on the issue numerous times. What did come as a surprise, however, was the secrecy in which the decision was made and the refusal of Y officials to comment or discuss the issue with the community.

When Avi Kimchi and I broke the story on Avi Kimchi’s afternoon radio program on 1650 AM Radio Shalom, on the day of the meeting, we invited members of the Y’s Board of Directors to join us on air, none with the exception of Board of Director and Hampstead Town Councillor Leon Elfassy even bothered to respond. When we approached the professional staff, we were told that the official comment of the Y is that there is no comment.

Elfassy and Rabbi Reuven Poupko from the Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue joined us on air and both expressed their opposition. But the opposition wasn’t enough and that night, the Montreal Jewish Y voted to open their doors on Shabbat.

Kimchi and I went on the air the next day and once again invited the leadership of the Y to join us, but secrecy prevailed. Around half way through the show, the Y finally released a press release. In it, they wrote:

“In taking this decision, the Y leadership recognizes the diversity of opinion in our community on this issue. The Y leadership had several meetings with Montreal’s Jewish community leadership, as well as the community at large to discuss opening on Shabbat…

“…The decision we have taken will contribute to sustaining our central role in providing cultural, recreational and intellectual programming, and contributing to the health and well being of our community.”

One begs to ask how promoting assimilation contributes to the health of the Jewish community. One begs to ask how sending a message, much like those German Jews of the ‘20s, that we have completed our transformation, we have given up our status, our traditions, our culture and now we are exactly like you contributes to the well being of the Jewish community.

The original move to open Jewish Community Centers in North America came from an unlikely source, Rabbi Eliezer Silver, head of the Agudath HaRabbonim, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada. Rabbi Silver served as its head from the onset of World War II until his death in 1968. He is most famous for leading the Rabbis March on Washington, which ultimately led to the US Government’s creation of the Refugee Board and the saving of almost 200,000 Jews from the Nazis.

Rabbi Silver argued that most Jews were not Orthodox, in fact most had no denominational affiliation at all. He noted that even with no affiliation, these Jews belonged to the Jewish Community Centers. It was their little connection to their past. Rabbi Silver noted that if the Jewish Community Centers closed on Shabbat, these unaffiliated Jews would have nowhere else to go. Instead of joining Jews in recreation or sports, they would go to the mall and pursue other forms of entertainment.

He concluded that if unaffiliated Jews did pursue other forms of entertainment, they would do so in mixed company, this, he argued, would increase intermarriage. To stop this, he ruled that the JCCs should open on Shabbat with some restrictions.

Even after his ruling, most North American JCCs remained closed on Shabbat and holidays and most Jews were happy with the arrangement. It showed society that Hitler didn’t kill Judaism, that even if most Jews were not religious, they still identified with their traditional heritage and they proudly stood as different amongst a society that meshed into a melting pot.

As the old saying goes, when you get farther from a tragedy, the impact of it diminishes. Unfortunately, the survivors of the Holocaust are slowly fading away and the next generation did not experience the searing of their Jewish identity in the form of a prisoner tattoo on their arm. Tradition is lost on them, so opening the Y on Shabbat means nothing.

For those in the community that care, all is not lost. Protest the Y’s decision by not renewing your membership. It is not enough to just not renew, you must send the administration of the Y a message telling them that you are not renewing based on this decision and if it is reversed, you will gladly rejoin.

The Y has stated that they feel that opening on Shabbat is in the best interest of the community, show them they are wrong.

Howie Silbiger is the host of The Howie Silbiger Show which airs Sunday-Tuesday at 6pm on 1650 Am Radio Shalom Montreal

The Anatomy of Hating Israel

Former US President Jimmy Carter, a noted anti-Israel advocate has called on the Obama Administration to take Hamas off the terror watch list. He made this call on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s peace appeal to the Palestinians.

Let’s take a minute to examine the two distinct, yet connected events.

On Sunday, June 14th, 2009, newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conducted a foreign policy speech which called for the creation of an independent Palestinian state with certain conditions. It has to be demilitarized, it has to recognize Israel as the Jewish State. Two conditions, which in effect, will ensure Israel has a secured and safe border with an enemy that has consistantly tried to destroy her for the last 60 years.

The Palestinian leadership quickly dismissed the proposal:

“Netanyahu’s speech closed the door to permanent status negotiations,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said. “We ask the world not to be fooled by his use of the term Palestinian state because he qualified it. He declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, said refugees would not be negotiated and that settlements would remain.”

This, of course, is not the first time the Palestinian leadership has refused an offer by Israel for a Palestinian State. Back in 2000 at Camp David, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yassir Arafat 98% of the “west bank” and half of Jerusalem for a Palestinian State. The only hold up was the condition that the newly formed Palestinian State would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Arafat refused the entire deal based on that one condition.

It seems in the nine years since Camp David, many things have changed, including the death of Arafat, but the sticking issue is the Palestinian recognition of Israel as a legitimate Jewish State.

So the next time you see pro-Palestinian activists screaming about Israeli aparthaid or how Israel has stolen land from the Palestinians, keep in mind that now, twice, Israel has offered to recognize an independant Palestinian State, and twice it’s the Palestinians that have refused.