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More Unfinished Business

More Unfinished Business

Copyright Date: 1997
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    More Unfinished Business
    Book Description:

    More Unfinished Business is a companion to the first volume of Rabbi Plaut?s 1981 memoir, Unfinished Business, offering readers his reflections on the unfolding of his life and work, and of events that touched him, during the past two decades. In some of these events ? for instance, in the case of his report on refugee policy and his role in shaping the direction of the Reform movement in Judaism, his reach has touched the lives of many thousands of people.

    This is a book of doings and musings rather than a detailed analysis of events. Rabbi Plaut considers how the events and issues he was involved with forced him to confront and reassess his life?s work, his religious, institutional, and political commitments. To understand this process, the reader is invited to consider something of the private man behind the events. It is this effort to reveal himself as a person, rather than as an actor in history, that gives added meaning to his reminiscences and his discussion of his concerns, involvements, and disappointments ? wrestling with prayer, the future of Judaism, ageing and mortality, parting with material possessions, even his passion for tennis.

    Rabbi Plaut is an exceptional writer and story-teller. This is a remarkable book by a remarkable man.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8384-6
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. [Illustrations]
    (pp. ix-xxvi)
  5. Part One: The Common Weal

    • CHAPTER ONE On Ageing and Obsolescence
      (pp. 3-16)

      Unfinished Businesswas written in contemplation of becoming three score and ten years old. Its concluding page reminds me how at that time I looked at reaching that milestone: ‘Getting older means, alas, that the circle of one’s family and friends becomes diminished by death. We suffered our share during these last years. Fortunately there is still my mother.¹ And I? At the present time, thank God, I function as I have always done – even though my golf score is much poorer than it used to be. My mind is clear, my pen ready ... I don’t particularly like to...

    • CHAPTER TWO The Boat Is Full: Refugees at the Gate
      (pp. 17-34)

      In the spring of 1984 I had occasion to talk with Martin Goldfarb, the Liberal party’s highly respected pollster/analyst, and I told him of my desire to be of some service to the government. Not long thereafter I received a phone call from John Roberts, federal minister of employment and immigration. He’d like to see me briefly. When he came the next day he was clearly running – not from something or someone, but chasing after the leadership of the Liberal party. Pierre Elliott Trudeau was set to resign as leader of the party, and therewith as prime minister of Canada....

    • CHAPTER THREE Canadian Mosaic
      (pp. 35-47)

      In late 1995 the people of Quebec went once again to the polls in order to tell themselves and the world whether they wanted to become a sovereign nation. By the slimmest of margins the answer was ‘No,’ and the leadership of the governing Parti Québécois lost no time in informing Canadians that another such vote would be held as soon as feasible. Since then, an undercurrent of instability has upset the usually calm waters of Canada. It is strange indeed to think that, while a global survey shows Canada as the world’s best place in which to live, a...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Human Rights: Sitting in Judgment
      (pp. 48-60)

      I have recently reread my account of the Ontario Human Rights Commission inUnfinished Business.When I wrote that book I was still vice-chair of the commission and quite unable to criticize it in print. But I was not very happy at the time and frequently thought about resigning. Aside from its heavily political leadership and some members who were never quite certain what the whole matter of human rights was all about, I had begun to consider the law that had created the commission as being flawed. We certainly need a commission that advocates human rights, but as it...

  6. Part Two: Living as a Jew

    • CHAPTER FIVE Israel: Love’s Ambiguities
      (pp. 63-78)

      Back in the 1960s, and especially after the Six Day War, Jews in Canada and the United States had a love affairsans pareilwith Israel. Our beloved could do no wrong; she was perfect in every way. If there were shadows, they were induced by others. If that explanation fizzled, the shadows were seen as temporary (don’t shadows always lengthen and then fade?) and in any case could be rationalized by the extreme danger in which Israel still found itself. There was much discussion about Israel’s ‘Masada complex,’¹ only this time the defenders would not commit mass suicide — on...

    • CHAPTER SIX Israel: Rabin and After
      (pp. 79-95)

      Like others before him, Yitzhak Rabin was a highly controversial figure during his lifetime and became a hero only after he was assassinated on 4 November 1995. For comparison, two American presidents come to mind, Abraham Lincoln and John Kennedy. The former was Satan himself to the Southern Confederacy, and the latter could not get his major legislation through a recalcitrant Congress. After his death Lincoln became the one whose Gettysburg address and second inaugural address framed the country’s national ideals, and the impact of Kennedy’s loss was such that his less distinguished successor could prevail on Congress to enact...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Communal Concerns
      (pp. 96-107)

      Gentile perceptions of the Jewish community may differ significantly from the reality. The belief that we are a closely knit aggregate of people pursuing common goals was largely accurate when we were relatively few in numbers. In Toronto’s pre-1939 days the majority of Jews lived close to downtown; the common high school was Harbord Collegiate, and only the so-called German Jews had uptown residences. German stood for ‘Reform,’ and when Holy Blossom Temple moved from Bond Street northward to Bathurst, well above St Clair Avenue, where the streetcars stopped and private transportation became essential, it became known as the ‘church...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Reform Judaism: A Personal Journey
      (pp. 108-125)

      Almost from the moment that I became active in the Reform movement I became classified (so I was repeatedly told) as ‘Orthodox’ – a way of saying that I didn’t quite fit. Though I used to bristle at this characterization, I no longer do. My critic had a point, and this is as good a time as any to deal with it.

      In 1935 I had left the womb of Europe and had emerged into that noisy, different, and often frightening world called North America. I had been brought up in a home that was traditional without rigidity; we were regular...

    • CHAPTER NINE Reform Judaism in Search of Self
      (pp. 126-146)

      In the early 1980s a committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) had been quietly meeting to consider a vital question of Jewish status. At the 1979 convention of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), held in Toronto, Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the UAHC, had proposed – and the media made much of it – that in mixed marriages Jewish fathers had been disfranchised and needed to be given their proper acknowledgment. According tohalachah‚¹ it is the mother who determines the status of her children. If she is Jewish, so are they; if she is not, neither...

  7. Part Three: At Home and Abroad

    • CHAPTER TEN Magnum Opus
      (pp. 149-161)

      Writers are often asked which of their books they consider their magnum opus. I was never asked that question, certainly not after 1981, whenThe Torah: A Modern Commentarywas published. I had conceived the idea and, after a somewhat uncertain start,¹ had contributed four out of the five commentaries and had edited the whole work (which in its popular, one-volume edition numbers 1,787 pages). It had taken me some seventeen years to do it, and it was my desire to finish the project that had led me to give up the congregational rabbinate.

      I have often wondered why the...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Books, et cetera
      (pp. 162-175)

      In 1977 Elizabeth and I spent some weeks in Spain and, for the better part of our stay, occupied a secluded cottage by the Mediterranean. We spent a lot of time walking the beach and, at night, reading by the fire. One evening I took my notebook to hand and started writing a story about us, a whimsical tale about a Torontonian sent forth to study ways and means of how to run other people’s lives. His stay in Spain cured him of his plan. The tale, produced in one evening, whetted my appetite for writing more. The result was...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Travels in Space and Time
      (pp. 176-194)

      We had visited the republic before and, despite (or perhaps because of) its still regnant and repulsive apartheid, found the experience most memorable.¹ The first lecture tour had been arranged by the World Union for Progressive Judaism; the second was to mark a special anniversary of Temple Israel in Johannesburg. A grand celebration had been planned, with the president of the republic and the Israeli ambassador in attendance. Television, radio, and the print media were to cover the festive service on a Shabbat morning.

      At about six o’clock that morning the telephone rang. An excited voice informed me that the...

  8. Part Four: Personal Perspectives

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN The Mutti Phenomenon
      (pp. 197-209)

      Grandma Moses derived a portion of her fame from the fact that she was a nonagenarian when she painted her pictures. Of course she was also very good at creating primitive images, but no one denies that viewers marvelled at both her age and her work. In her own way, Mutti – as everyone who knew her called my mother¹ – was a reincarnation of Grandma Moses.

      For most of the last thirty-odd years of her life Mutti lived in her own two-bedroom apartment in Toronto, in Upper Forest Hill.² She arrived in the city in 1961, and thereafter her life changed...

      (pp. 210-218)

      The memory of having come to the New World in 1935, during the Great Depression, with no money and few things to call my own, stayed with me for a long time. The catalogue of items I brought with me is short: a serge suit and overcoat, both meant to last a lifetime, and one tennis racquet freshly strung (I had learned that Hebrew Union College had a tennis court). And books: a small Oxford English dictionary given to me by Professor Joshua Friedländer (who later committed suicide to escape the terror of the concentration camp), a Hebrew-German prayer book...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Faith, Family, and Future
      (pp. 219-230)

      Having carried the title ‘Rabbi’ for more than fifty years, having centred much of my life around the synagogue, and having written books that speak of God, I am believed to enjoy a special relationship with the Divine. But when it comes to God, I have found that nothing is simple, and the older I get the more doors in my religious edifice seem to open to unknown chambers. Only a few of the nearly nine hundred pages in my recently published Haftarah commentary lack a mention of God, but what I wrote in explanation of the book’s prophetic passages...

  9. APPENDIX A: Two Letters That Saved My Life
    (pp. 231-232)
  10. APPENDIX B: A Missed Opportunity
    (pp. 233-234)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 235-252)
  12. Bibliography, 1982–1996
    (pp. 253-289)
  13. Photo Credits
    (pp. 290-290)
  14. Index
    (pp. 291-306)