Saturday, November 14, 2015

On the Recent Events in Paris

Jerome Delay—AP
What happened yesterday in Paris is a tragedy. The loss of human life is always a tragedy. The murdering of innocent people is an unqualifiedly terrible thing. 

Many people's instant reaction will be anger - this is normal and justified. However, if we react and form judgments solely from that anger, we are bound to perpetuate a global cycle of violence that has plagued humankind since time immemorial. We need to take the time to calm ourselves, to regulate our emotions, and then to think and make choices that will transform the landscape of how we respond to such terrible acts.

When something awful happens that doesn't fit our current worldview, our minds demand an explanation. Such gruesome acts of human-on-human violence, especially when they happen in a modern, “Western,” urban centre like Paris, do not fit most people's view of how the world is supposed to be. It shakes the foundational beliefs that we operate with in order to function in the world – beliefs regarding our safety, the progress of human civilization, and justice. Because of this discomfort, this anxiety-producing cognitive dissonance, we need demand quick answers. We need quick, simple, understandable explanations to contain the anomaly of human carnage that we have just witnessed or read about. And to this demand, we all too often rely on others – the media, our friends and family, etc. – to offer us easily digestible accounts of what happened.

This is where language serves a vital function for us. We rely on words: terrorism, evil, Islamic fundamentalism, psychopaths, radicals, etc. These words are powerful because they denote and contain within them an entire range of complicated human problems. Most vitally for us, they act as containers for our anger, our rage, and our disbelief at the cruelty we are capable of as human beings.

When we resort to these labels, we form conclusions that allow us to distance ourselves from the anxiety and difficult questions that we may otherwise have to face when we learn of such horrendous events. We other the individuals responsible for these heinous acts: terrorists, savages, madmen, barbarians, etc. In essence, we contain the anomaly within subgroups of people – other people – that we insist we do not and could never belong to. This becomes even more destructive when we overgeneralize based on these labels: Islamic fundamentalism becomes “the Muslim world,” “Arabs,” “Muslims,” “Islam,” etc. Some of us become racists and bigots who feel justified in our reasoning. We become as rigidly attached to our own fundamentalist beliefs as those who belong to the target groups that we dehumanize and demonize (if you really want a sampling of the kind of ignorance and racism I’m referring to, just read the comment sections of news articles and YouTube videos covering these incidents on the internet. Also, bring a barf bag).

By relying on these mental heuristics, these labels and stereotypes, we don’t need to fully confront our own difficult emotions that have been stirred up by the news. We don’t need to think and ask important questions about these events (e.g. why do these things keep on happening over and over again in our world?). We already have our answers. The problem is them, and we are not one of them, so the solution is simple: continue to try to fight and kill them before they kill us so that the rest of us can go on with our merry lives. Look at the example of America’s response to 9/11. Nearly 3000 Americans were killed in the World Trade Centre attacks. The response: all-out war against those who were perceived to represent the reason for this attack. The results? To date, approximately 6,800 American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, most of them civilians (actual numbers vary widely depending on reporting sources).

But let’s interrupt that process for a moment. Let’s take the time to calm ourselves before we form our conclusions; to sit back, think, and ask ourselves the important questions. Most importantly, why does this kind of shit keep happening? I don’t claim to have all the answers for this question, but if you’re willing to actually do some research, there are many who have written about possible causes.

For a brief review of terrorist incidents in France, here’s a Wikipedia page:

Note that, like the history of most places on this planet, incidents of human terror against other humans is not limited to recent times. You’ll also note that many of the incidents that have happened in recent decades are attributes to “Islamists,” “Jihadists,” or “Fundamentalists” of one kind or another.

Here are just a few perspectives on how Muslim people in general have been received in France:

Here’s a Wikipedia article about the history of racism in France:

AP/Laurent Cipriani
The point of these examples is not to “blame the victims” of yesterday’s events. The purpose of this writing is not to blame France for its own racism or history of Colonialism. These mass murders cannot be justified. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t be explained and understood.

France is just one country representative of problems that have been replicated on a global scale over and over again by different people and nations over history. Localized events like this are microcosms for global events. The global history and climate of oppression, of imperialism and colonialism, of exploitation, inequity, and state-funded terror against entire countries is part of this problem. The Paris attacks are a symptom of a divided world based on a history of broken foreign policies.

There are many in this world seething with anger and rage against the “Western world” and all that it represents. We are the other that is responsible for the death, destruction, and despair faced by millions of people in the Middle East, Africa, and other parts of the globe. In the eyes of those who we brand as terrorists, we are the terrorists. And if you look simply at casualty rates, maybe we are, as many will label us, “the real terrorists.”

Andy Singer

So where does this leave us? How can we all respond differently to these events so as to not perpetuate the same cycles of violence, death, and despair that continually plague the human race? 

I can only share with you my own reaction and process to hearing the news.

When I read the first headlines, I was alarmed, but not surprised. My worldview is one in which I think that such events are commonplace and I’ve come to consider them as horrendous but expected occurrences given the type of world we live in. I got angry. I thought of all those people who were out living their lives and were murdered while innocently doing so. But the anger quickly left me – I let it go. And that’s when I felt the core emotion underneath my anger: sadness. I feel deeply saddened by the recent events in Paris. I am sad that we do this to one another over and over again. I am sad because I believe that in the grand scheme of things, the world’s reactions to these attacks likely won’t result in anything changing for the better.

As much as I am upset and saddened by the actions of the people who carried out these attacks, as much as I want to hate them and demonize them for their cruelty, I refuse to. I refuse to other the people that did this. As I’ve mentioned, I think that this “othering” process is a core part of the problem in how we treat each other as human beings. But on a more fundamental, personal level, I cannot other these people because I acknowledge that given the wrong set of circumstances, I could have been one of them. Had any one of us been born into the environment that these people were born into, been exposed to whatever experiences, horrors, and ideologies these people were exposed to, we could have been them.

We all have the capacity to be monsters. We all also have the capacity to be more than that. Those of us who are privileged enough to have the relative peace, safety, security, and time to reflect have the opportunity to consciously choose how we want to be in the world. We need to exercise our responsibility to choose.

So today, despite my anger and sadness and fear, I choose not to hate. I choose not to demonize the people who carried out these attacks. I choose to strive to understand rather than to contain and separate myself from the horror. I choose to write these words to help me process my own experience, and hopefully make a difference in how you process yours.

What do you choose?

Christopher Mulligan/CBC News

Saturday, August 8, 2015


As if today wasn't everything I have,
memory trails encoded in neural webs,
flashes of light across synapses
illuminate moments,
feelings, places, times
I'd sooner forget.

Dare I squander another hour,
another minute of this
flash-in-the-pan existence
before  my energy is again strewn
across the expanse,
the void,
to drift nowhere,
out of time?

Dare I be afraid of speaking truth,
of emotions, of consequences,
to standing naked against the wind,
to shivers and goosebumps on skin,
dare I hide behind a gripping façade of shame?

No, no.
I have cowered in the shadows,
I have run from the now.
I know fear
and all of its companions;
I've tasted the blandness
of living suppression.

I have learned all I can
from the dark.


Neither pride nor shame can keep us,
not for long,
not from life,
from emotions that speak our truth,
that we hide behind hands,
looking away as if we could avoid
getting wet in an ocean,
clinging to flotsam,
planks of wood, anything
to keep us from being immersed,
from feeling too much,
like worms that fear the dirt,
bats that fear nightfall,
as we walk around
trying to suppress sneezes
in dusty, pollen-filled air.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Eulogy for Zaidy John

            John Sauber was always known to us grandchildren as Zaidy John. Zaidy John was a bit of a superhero to my brothers and me growing up. I remember being in awe of his physical fitness, nutritional expertise (thanks in large part to my Bubbie Blemah), and his strength – I have distinct memories of him lifting up my brother Jesse and I, one on each arm, and each of us clinging on to his rock-hard biceps. I remember many birthday cards and letters to overnight summer-camp written in his perfect, almost computer-like penmanship – evidence of the fact that he would have made a fine surgeon. Going over to Bubbie and Zaidy’s was always an exciting time – sharing in his love of cooking and baking, eating special but healthy foods, playing games, going swimming, sweating in the dry sauna, and playing with the weightlifting equipment in the gym in their building. Zaidy had a way of cupping the water in his hands in the swimming pool and squirting it up like a fountain. I also remember his trick of seemingly removing his thumb and putting it back on – even when I found out how he did it, I could never do it quite as well as he did. I remember once after going swimming with Zaidy and showering to get the chlorine smell off in the change-room, I realized that I had forgotten my dry change of clothes up in his condo; he showed me how to wrap my towel around myself so that we could walk back upstairs together without me having to put my wet bathing suit back on. It was the small, caring gestures like this, the little, consistent kindnesses that embody the warmth, love, and good humour that Zaidy John provided for us as grandchildren. There was warmth in his eyes and excitement in his voice whenever he greeted us, a feeling of playfulness and safety when he was around. He was a source of nurturance, reassurance, and a role-model for us in our younger years, a symbol of both strength and compassion, of both joyful living and responsibility. Through his levity, wit, and kindness, he conveyed a feeling of unconditional positive regard, giving us an example of who we might aspire to be in the world.
My Zaidy John didn’t have an easy life. In his late teens, he and his family were among the hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews who fell victim to the Nazis in World War II. As my brothers and I grew older, Zaidy shared some of the horror stories of his past with us on several occasions. Over the years, I wrote poems inspired by what he told us, some of which I’ve included here:

…after the war,/after being liberated from hell on earth,/Zaidy told me how he waited,/how every day he checked the lists,/hoping, yearning, anticipating/the reunion with his family.//But that day never came.//I can only imagine the depression,/the despair and the loneliness/upon realizing that they were gone,/not knowing if, how, when, or where they died,/the uncertainty of whether or how/to move on, to start again,/to live./

But somehow Zaidy John did live on. He survived, and he did much more than that. He immigrated to Canada, started a business, a family, and created a new life for himself. Our biological grandfather on our father’s side passed away before we were born, and so we never got a chance to know him. Through John’s marriage to our Bubbie Blemah later in his life, however, we were given the gift of having a paternal grandfather. By simply being who he was, Zaidy John taught us that family need not be determined by flesh and blood alone; he taught us that family is something we can choose to create through our word and our commitment, through our love and generosity. 
He recalled to us on more than one occasion the warmth, love, and innocence of his childhood with his mother, father, and sister, and the subsequent tragedy of losing many of them in the Holocaust. Through being a part of our family, however, John also provided us with a vivid example of transcendence, the ability of the human spirit to turn towards love despite great reasons to fall into sorrow.
My brother Jesse fondly recalls a road trip that he and John took to Pennsylvania one year for his grandchildren Daniel and Kyla’s bar and bat mitzvahs. As he recalls, Zaidy insisted on driving the whole way, and they even ended up in a pub late one night and eating junk food after a long day's drive. Jesse remembers this as a special trip and experience with John, and it holds a warm place in his heart.
Some of the fondest memories I have of my time with Zaidy are the fishing trips we went on together. I remember standing on a dock with Zaidy, going through various lures and baits in our tackle boxes, and casting out into the water together on a warm summer day. Neither of us caught anything off that dock, but it didn’t matter; I was utterly content to just be there, to be with him – fishing together with my Zaidy. Another time we were out on the lake together in a small boat and it started pouring rain – we got soaked on the way back in, but, again – it didn’t matter. We laughed about it and made the best of it. 

“Sometimes the past still comes up,”/he told me on our last fishing trip together./“It’s a part of me that will never go away.”//I’m grateful/that my Zaidy was courageous enough/to tell me what he went through.//I’m grateful that he was a survivor,/that he not only survived/but lived on after his real-life nightmare.//I’m grateful that he didn’t use going through hell/as an excuse not to try to create his own version of heaven on earth.//And I’m grateful that despite all the love he lost,/despite the pain of losing his entire family,/the memories, the dreams,/the questions without answers,/I’m grateful that he still loved,/that he still gave of himself,/that he refused to let his past/shape who he was in this world/and who he still is to me.

John’s resilient spirit persisted even as the challenges of illness and old age fell upon him. When my Bubbie Blemah began to develop Alzheimer’s dementia, my Zaidy was faced with another immense challenge in his life – he had to watch his partner and best friend slowly slip away, helpless at the mercy of an insidious disease. But even in his last several years, as his own health declined and my Bubbie’s mind deteriorated, he still loved and cared for her. Moments of genuine tenderness and affection were evident when we visited him; his love and devotion shone through all of the difficulties he was facing. His patience and compassion were more gifts that my Zaidy gave to the world.
Over the past several years, I didn’t see Zaidy as much as I would have liked to. In my last visit with him at his home, I expressed my regret to him; I told him that I wished I had kept in better contact and been there for him more. He just looked at me and said: “the past is the past.” He told me that he understood that I was busy and living my life, which I know is what he wanted for me. Despite this, I still feel some regret. I think that I should have made more of an effort to make time for him, to call and visit more often, to repay him for the love and kindness that he showed me growing up. But I also realize now that Zaidy never placed those expectations on me. He always only wanted what was best for me and never asked me for anything in return. In some of the darkest and most difficult times in my life, he offered me support and encouragement; he let me know I was loved, that I would get through what I was going through, and he affirmed the strength that he saw in me. 
Today I am saddened not only because I’ve lost my Zaidy, a tremendous man and a source of unconditional love in my life, but also because I’ve lost the last living Holocaust survivor that I knew personally. I’ve lost one of my heroes. I feel a responsibility to carry his memory with me, both the legacy of family, kindness, and generosity that he instilled in me, and the history of adversity and hardship that he was forced to live through for the simple fact that he was born a Jew. John’s life reinforced in me the belief that discrimination and prejudice against our fellow human beings is fundamentally wrong and destructive, regardless of the basis upon which we discriminate. He was a living testament to the  virtues of acceptance, tolerance, kindness, and the freedom that we all have to choose how we will face the adversities that life inevitably presents us. I’m grateful to have known my Zaidy John, and I will never forget.
I want to close with a poem that I wrote for Zaidy several years ago. It’s called, “Change”:

I never understood/why your life was so hard/nor how you could go on/after all the pain you endured.//You lived through the Holocaust of World War II/and now you live through the holocaust/of your wife’s faltering mind.//You know, more than most,/how drastic change can be.//I don’t know why/someone as wonderful as you/should have so much hardship in his life,/but I’d be damned/if I didn’t know why/you are here today.//I remember/when you told my brothers and I/about living in the concentration camps./I remember a story you told us/about a father and son/who fought over the equal splitting/of a piece of bread/and I remember you telling us/that they did not survive.//I remember/and I listened/and I listen still/to every word you say.//Because, Zaidy,/you are one of the few people/in this world/that I can truly call/my hero.//I don’t know how/you found the strength/to move on after the war;/to change your mentality/from despair to determination.//I don’t know how/you find the patience and perseverance/to deal with Bubbie’s condition/day in and day out,/but I know that you do/and that is real courage.//I don’t care what blood/we do or do not share./you are my Zaidy,/I am your grandson,/and that will never change.//I thank God for knowing you/and I thank you for all you are,/all you do,/and all the love you share.//But most of all, I thank you for/finding the strength to live/and for being a beacon of light/in this seemingly darkening,/always changing world.//In the times that your light dims,/when you feel drained,/scared or uncertain,/I will be here for you.//Together/we will share our bread/and we will survive,/together.//I love you, Zaidy John,/and that will never change.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fractured Relations - part two

Convocation day.
I invited both Mom and Dad,
knowing it would be awkward
but not really caring;
I wanted them both to be there,
so they could both be proud of their son.

Zaidy John came with Dad,
Mom came separately.

as we walked,
I felt torn inside,
wanting to address them both together
but not believing that I could.
Hugs and pictures for both,

Zaidy John sat with Mom
as they talked, probably about
Bubbie Blemah and her worsening Alzheimer’s,
and I talked with Dad,
answering questions succinctly.

I sat there, feeling disoriented, and watched us
as if from an outside perspective,
perceiving a barrier between family,
as if some cruel hand had shattered the rigid bonds
that once held us all together.

“It’s funny how things turn out,”
Mom said to me once,
“Life is strange.”
“It’s not strange or funny,”
I replied,
“it’s just the way it is.”

It’s just the way it is
and only God knows why.

But my family didn’t die;
it broke and then transformed,
like roots breaking off a plant
and sprouting anew,
like a love fractured at its core,
fragments drifting apart into different horizons,
held together only by the sight
of fading memories
and living again in the breaths
of altered lives.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

70 Years Later...How Should I Feel?

Today marks 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet forces in World War II. As a third-generation survivor of the Holocaust, today I wonder: how am I supposed to feel?

I inherited the history of my grandparents' survival. From a young age, I heard the horror-stories second-hand through my mother's words. As I grew, I became increasingly obsessed with the topic, this word, this Holocaust, and I read and learned as much as I could, trying to make sense of it all. I eventually heard the unfathomable tales distilled down to individual stories told to me by my grandparents; stories of unloading rotting corpses from cattle cars, sweeping up ashes of the dead from large crematoriums. Tales of being chased, persecuted, lied to, beaten and starved, of eating out of trash cans to survive and working through malnourishment and exhaustion to avoid being murdered. In the devastating poignancy and matter-of-factness of my grandparents' telling, I came to the only rational conclusion I could about the Holocaust: that there is no making sense of it. That human beings are capable of literally creating the nightmares that they imagine is not up for debate. History has proven too many times that people are capable of terrible things - and history continues to prove its point, over and over again.

I came to another conclusion about the profound impact that my heritage had on me in my life: I'm alive because my grandparents survived. Had they not managed to beat the odds and survive the camps, if they hadn't then chosen to continue living their lives and create life despite the fact that the world had robbed them of them of the only lives they knew, then myself, my parents, my aunts and uncles, brothers and cousins, my nephews, and who knows how many countless generations to come would never have existed. We're alive because they survived.

So today, knowing what I know about what happened, knowing that what happened seems to have made little difference in altering the course of history and preventing modern genocides from recurring, fearing that the only living survivor I personally know is nearing the end of his life and that within the next few decades there will be no first-generation Holocaust survivors left - how am I supposed to feel?

I feel sadness and trepidation. I feel optimism and hope. I feel a bottomless despair and an insatiable yearning to make the world a better place in any way that I can.

I don't think I'll ever fully come to peace or make sense of the existence of a place like Auschwitz. I don't think that what I write at this moment will offer me any relief, nor do I think I will necessarily provide any sense of life-affirming contextualization or resolution for the reader. But I guess it's better to feel something than to feel nothing - to care enough to read or write or simply remember than not to. It's worth feeling the pain of the millions of unlived lives for even just a moment if it makes us more grateful to live the lives we live today, if it makes us better parents, lovers and friends, or if it makes us think twice about how we treat the strangers we meet on the paths we traverse in our lives.

Here's a song I wrote about the Holocaust at the age of 15:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015


January 13, 2015

 “We all need to belong, is that the wrong assumption?
Will we always be longing for something?”

Toronto Hip Hop Artist MC FÜBB Releases New Project after Two-Year Hiatus

(Toronto, ON) – After a two-year hiatus since his last official release (the critically acclaimed EP, the poet), Toronto hip hop artist MC FÜBB has teamed up with producer/emcee Noyz to release their new collaborative EP: BeLonging. Thematically centered around the fundamental human need to belong, MC FÜBB weaves together notions of authenticity, creativity, peace, and finding one’s place in the world as he raps over a rich instrumental tapestry created by beat-smith Noyz. Featuring soulful vocals by Mike Devine on “Belong” and the buzz single “Grace,” the end result is a cohesive, five-track musical project that aims to strike emotional chords with listeners through thought-provoking lyrics, inspiring melodies, and songs with high replay value.

Here’s what Noyz has to say about the theme of new EP:

“The title ‘BeLonging’ and the artwork is a reflection of struggles that we all face. We don’t want to feel left out; we want a place that feels like home, where we know we belong. However, within this longing, we often miss out on the truth that we already do belong. We are all created from the same materials and the same source, and as beings in this universe, the feeling of belonging is something that should be natural and innate within all of us. Finding and strengthening that connection is a lifelong journey.”

BeLonging isn’t the first time that FÜBB and Noyz have worked together: in 2011, the two artists released In the Face of No Agreement (aka ITFONA), a full length album exploring the theme of using hip hop as an empowering vehicle for overcoming one’s internal obstacles. Noyz also produced “Poetically Correct” on MC FÜBB’s EP the poet, and FÜBB featured on the song “Keep Moving On” on Noyz’s album Degrees of Freedom.

A release party for the new EP will be held on Thursday, February 5 at Studio Bar (824 Dundas Street West, Toronto), featuring performances by MC FÜBB, Noyz, reggae/funk band The Responsables, music by DJ Xplisit, and special guest appearances.

Free streaming/download links to BeLonging:

(includes instrumentals, acapellas, and clean versions of tracks – DJs: Feel free to remix away!)

For all media enquiries, please contact Daniel Farb at or call 647-201-9161.


Release Party + Show:

Where: Studio Bar – 824 Dundas Street West, Toronto
When: February 5, 2015 – Doors at 8pm; show starts at 9pm

Come and celebrate the release of MC FÜBB and Noyz's new EP, "BeLonging" (and a belated release celebration of MC FÜBB's previous EP, "the poet")!

Featuring performances by:

(Hip hop emcee)

(Hip hop emcee and producer)

The Responsables
(Live reggae/funk band)

Music supplied by DJ Xplisit
(Toronto's craziest beatboxing DJ!)

Tickets are $5 (+$1.29 Eventbrite fee) in advance via Eventbrite:

$10 at the door.

Cover includes a physical copy of the BeLonging EP.

For all media enquiries, please contact Daniel Farb at or call 647-201-9161.