I am not a Bandwagon Toronto FC Fan

Toronto FC

Matthew and I are fans of the Mighty Toronto FC, our local Major League Soccer (MLS) club that won the big championship this past weekend. Unlike the bandwagon we joined when the Toronto Argonauts won the Grey Cup a couple of weeks ago, we are the real thing. Well, kind of.

Soccer, or as the rest of the world (except Canada and the United States) calls it, football (no, not the NFL or CFL), is a sport I have always enjoyed. Okay, when I say enjoyed, I mean to say that I enjoy watching. I’m not much of a soccer player. It’s not in my top group of sports that I follow, like baseball, hockey and basketball, but I like it.

I remember when Toronto FC joined the MLS back in 2007, and wow, they were bad. But aren’t expansion teams supposed to be terrible? I watched the odd game and kind of followed them during that first season, and I monitored the team’s progress over the following years as their record steadily improved.

I think my story is quite similar to many others across North America who follow MLS. You won’t find millions of diehard soccer fans across the US and Canada like you may see in Europe or South America. But the MLS fans are loyal. They love soccer and they love their local team.

Toronto FC fans are great, and I want to send a shout-out to all of you who have been watching the games on TV and going to the matches over the past 10 years. Soccer is an exciting sport to watch, and there is always tremendous athleticism on display. Fans are always treated to a great show.

And this year’s Toronto FC team was something special.

This incredible group of athletes broke so many MLS records. The team finished the season with 69 points, which was of course a new league record. It also won a special soccer triple crown: the 2017 Canadian Championship, the Supporters’ Shield and of course the MLS Cup this past weekend. This team is the perfect example of a true champion.

And Matthew and I have been following Toronto FC’s rise to become league champions for a couple of years. We watched the disappointing loss in the league championship game last year, when it all came down to a shoot-out. Wow do I hate shoot-outs (that’s for another day). How can a 90-minute, hard-fought match come down to a few free kicks on a goalie? Really? But I digress.

We knew early on that this season was THE ONE. This team was almost unbeatable, and it was like magic on grass every time they played. I knew who my favourite player was – of course, Jozy Altidore, who dons the jersey with the big number 17 on the back. Matthew agreed with me, of course!

competition
Matthew was thrilled to meet Jozy Altidore in Chicago

We even had the opportunity, in amazing seats, to see our team play – and win – in Chicago this summer. While we did not receive a warm welcome at Toyota Park from the local Chicago Fire fans, we didn’t care. Our team won! On that day in August we knew we were hooked. And we knew that Toronto FC could go all the way.

Toronto FC
Of course we had to take a selfie from our seats at Toyota Park this summer.

And oh they did. With grace and style. This is a team to remember and to celebrate. We watched every minute of the championship game on Saturday and sat on the edge of our seats as Toronto FC dominated early on. And then MY player, Mr. Jozy Altidore, scored the big goal. And we knew they could do it.

Congratulations to Toronto FC. And congratulations to the loyal fans. Let the celebrations continue.

Do Most of us Really Understand Religion?

job security

A couple of weeks ago I wished all my readers a Happy New Year. When the sun went down on September 20th, it was the start of a new year, according to the Jewish calendar. The first month of the year is called Tishrei. It begins with Rosh Hashana, ten days later we mark Yom Kippur and a few days later, on the 15th of the month, we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot culminates in Shemini Atzeret and Simcha Torah. So, there’s a whole bunch of Jewish holidays crammed into a three-week period every year. Rabbis and scholars tell me that it’s a time of reflection, when sins are considered and our fates are sealed. It is a time of year that for those who observe, religion plays a central role in life. But instead of considering my sins or how good a person I am, I have been thinking more about the question, do most of us really understand religion?

Jews around the world marked Yom Kippur on Friday night and Saturday of this past weekend. The literal translation into English is Day of Atonement. Many people would consider Yom Kippur to be the holiest day of the year. It’s the day of repentance, the day we reflect on our lives and hope that our fates are sealed into the book of life.

The holiday, like all Jewish holidays, begins at sundown. First, we eat before we fast for almost 25 hours (what would a holiday be, no matter what religion you observe, without food?). Then, as the sun sets, the most highly attended prayer service of the year for Jews, begins. Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre is not actually a service rather it is the prayer which opens the holiday of Yom Kippur. Jews around the world have been raised and told by their parents, grandparents and friends that THIS is the holiest night of the year. THiS is the service you must attend, if you are going to go to synagogue just once each year.

The prayer is in Aramaic, a language that is related to Hebrew, but it’s not Hebrew. I am going to make a guess here that the majority of people who are packed into synagogues around the world, who stand there and quietly chant this solemn prayer, have no idea what it means or why they are standing there stuffed into the room with a bunch of well-dressed strangers.

The words the congregation hears, said three times are:

All vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligation, pledges, and promises that we vow or promise to ourselves and to God from this Yom Kippur to the next—may it approach us for good—we hereby retract. May they all be undone, repealed, cancelled, voided, annulled, and regarded as neither valid nor binding. Our vows shall not be considered vows; our renuncia- tions shall not be considered renunciations; and our promises shall not be considered promises.

Then everyone in the room says three times (in Aramaic):

“The entire congregation of the people Israel shall be forgiven, as well as the stranger who dwells among them, for all have erred.”

Then the Rabbi (or cantor) closes with the famous prayer, in Hebrew, She-hecheyanu, : “Barukh atah Adonai, our God, ruler of time and space, for granting us life, for sustaining us, and for bringing us to this moment.”

Then the rest of the night is spent reciting the evening service, known in Hebrew as Ma’ariv.

I have attended many a Kol Nidre service in my 41 years. I have also spent hours at synagogue on Yom Kippur, as I flipped through the prayer book to check how many more pages until I could go home. I read, speak and write Hebrew and can confidently say I understand a fair amount of what’s written in Jewish prayer books. But, does being in synagogue, reading and reciting prayers, and listening to the Rabbi speak make me feel more religious? Does it help me grasp what religion is? For me, definitely not.

Do people suddenly discover religion on Yom Kippur? Do they alight to some spiritual plateau that I have yet to find? Will I ever find it?

This year, I will admit, I did not attend synagogue to hear Kol Nidre chanted. I have been fighting a cold for almost two weeks and didn’t have the strength to get to synagogue. I sent David with the three kids so that I could have a quiet evening at home. I will tell you that those precious few hours in my quiet house gave me the opportunity for true reflection (when I started to ask this question, do most of us understand religion).

By Saturday afternoon I felt better and joined David and the children at synagogue for Yom Kippur’s concluding service, called Ne’ilah. It is the least attended service of the Jewish holiday season, but it’s my favourite. It’s the one when I don’t check to see how many pages are left or stand miserably, pushed up beside some well-dressed stranger.

I find Ne’ilah uplifting, maybe even a bit exciting. As I stood there, as the service came to its climax, as the Book of Life was being sealed for yet another year, I suddenly realized what religion meant for me. It’s not about prayers or fasting or keeping kosher or other observances.

It’s about community.

The Ne’ilah service ended and the Havdalah service began. Havdalah, another Hebrew word, literally means “separation.” It is a wonderful, special ceremony that is performed to separate the Jewish Sabbath (or Holidays) from the rest of the week.

I stood there, holding my baby, arm in arm with my children, as we blessed the candles, spices, wine and the new week. Our synagogue group stood strong together and sang, not because we shared a religion or because we felt more devout but because we were a community. I think, as human beings, we all seek out community.

So maybe I was wrong. Maybe on this Yom Kippur I did finally reach that spiritual plateau. I did not find religion, but I found community.

Forward to School

forward to school

School starts on Tuesday. In how many hours is that? Everyone talks about the kids going back to school, but this week I heard it stated another way, forward to school. I like that. Starting a new school year is not about going backwards, it’s about moving forward. My kids will start a new grade, with new school supplies and new shoes. I hope they will make new friends, renew old friendships and maybe even learn something new too.

I am ready to move forward to school. The last week of summer vacation is hard on all parents. We love our children and we love to spend time with them. But really, the first day of school is a blessing for parents. All routines in our house have disappeared and there is too much screen time happening. They have been going to bed late and sleeping in (well one sleeps in and the other two get up early).

Julia’s bedroom floor is covered in discarded clothes and toys. Matthew prefers to wear his pyjamas all day. Nessa refuses to nap. I am trying to balance work and quality time with the kids that does not include screaming at them or cleaning up their messes.

Yes, I am ready to move forward to school.

I believe that the start of a new school year is the perfect time to start new routines and set new rules in the house. As children get older they can take on some responsibilities. The questions for me are, what responsibilities, and how much do I give them?

My daughter is messy – okay, she is really messy. Her bedroom can easily move from clear skies to hurricane status in minutes when she plays in there. Clothes, dolls, toy kitchen accessories and tiny knick knacks seem to be everywhere. When she wants to avoid her little sister, she finds other key spots in the house to play, and as the summer winds down and she is home a lot, her messes are everywhere.

She responds well to rewards and punishments, but there are no set rules of how to govern her behaviour. The messier her bedroom and surrounding rooms become, the more disorganized she becomes. She has a tendency to lose things as her piles build. Not great for the start of school. So, we need to put a system in place as we move forward to school.

My son is actually quite a neat and tidy child. In his case, he responds well when given tasks and chores that show him we respect that he is getting older. He easily switches from an active and vibrant kid to a lazy adolescent who starts glassy-eyed at the TV or iPad. So, I have to catch him before that screen turns on.

I have to move forward with regular small chores, like making his bed in the morning, throwing laundry in the basket, setting and clearing the kitchen table at meal time and helping watch his baby sister when I am making dinner.

Then there is homework. My kids do not receive a ton of homework, but once school ramps up they both expect to have some most days. Some assignments may be due the following day, end of the week or weeks later. This year I need to set up a routine for doing homework in the house. The kids each need a consistent place and time to do their homework each day, as they both respond well to routine. And that has to happen from day one once they go forward to school.

So, today is Thursday, which means five more sleeps until the early morning preparations happen to get the kids up and out the door for their first day of school. I will let them laze around in their pyjamas, screens on and toys scattered for a few more days. And then we get serious and focus on a new school year. My very best to everyone as we get ready to go forward to school.