ExPat Files: American Thanksgiving In Canada Comes With a Side of Gratitude

To all my friends and family in the States, I wish you a “Happy Thanksgiving”.  And to all my friends in Canada, I wish you a “Happy Thursday”.


I know, truly, all the things about Thanksgiving in America.  And I know, truly, all the things about Thanksgiving in Canada.  [If you don’t believe me, I wrote a post about it a few years ago.]  And yet this time of year brings such strong feelings that “body memory” has to be real.  It actually starts on the weekend prior where you just know that Thanksgiving Week is coming…it is the shortest of school/work weeks…children are coming home from college (that’s American for “university”), relatives are gathering, food is being cooked, football is coming on, a four or five-day weekend is ahead, and it just goes on and on.  The whole week is filled with such anticipatory joy.

I fully acknowledge that if it has not been your experience, it may not make sense; but if it has, then it is the only thing that makes sense.  [Ask an American.]  The fomo really starts on Wednesday when you realize that you should be starting to relax and it is just another school night.  And now, today, when the only emails and social media posts you get are full of Thanksgiving, the games are starting up, and you are just…at school or work…that’s some next-level fomo.

Whatever your position on Thanksgiving (either of them) are, I would hope that we can all agree that the giving-of-the-thanks part is a net positive.  We could and should be grateful more than once a year and at a Jewish school, we have multiple opportunities each day to express our gratitude.  But since I am feeling all the Thanksgiving feels as I write my weekly blog post, I figured if I can’t watch the game, or see the family, or eat the food, the one thing I can do is express a little gratitude.

What I am grateful for this (American) Thanksgiving:

  • I am grateful for the soon-to-be gift of dual American and Canadian citizenship.  (Spoiler Alert!  Jaimee and I passed our citizenship tests and are waiting for the call to God Save the King!  We are looking forward to sharing the ceremony with our local community.)  Seven years a Canadian has been a blessing for our family and we remain proud Americans.  Doubly-blessed are we.
  • I am grateful for the men and women who defend the Land, State and People of Israel, our Holy Homeland.  We pray for the return of all the hostages and a peaceful resolution to this current conflict.  We are so hopeful that the world calms down enough for our younger daughter, Maytal, to have her semester-in-Israel experience this January, but regardless, the safety and security of Israel is never to be taken for granted and always to be grateful for.  Now more than ever.  Am Yisrael Chai.
  • I grateful for the technology that keeps me connected to friends and family.  COVID or no COVID, it is miracle that FaceTime, Zoom and Google Meet allow us to “see” parents, grandparents and friends across borders and thousands of miles.
  • I am eternally grateful to have a wife, Jaimee, whose Type A/perfectionist mothering and wife-ing creates so much space for me to dedicate my time and energy to my work and my passion.
  • I am thankful to have landed in a Jewish community that is extraordinarily capable and generous; a community that is committed to its future by its support for Jewish day school.
  • I am grateful to have landed in a Jewish day school that is full of committed, talented, caring, innovating and hardworking teachers.  A school is only as good as its teachers and we have a pretty great school!

I could go on, of course, but let me just say that I am also grateful to anyone and everyone who has ever read, shared, or commented on one of my 450+ blog posts over the years.  You often wonder/worry that you are speaking into the wind, but every now and again someone takes the time to let you know that they are, in fact, paying attention.  And that always feels great.

For my friends in the States…enjoy Thanksgiving!  For my friends in Canada…enjoy Thursday!

This is being planned with all due haste, and I do have a seat at the table, so please know that all the details of the program and our school’s participation are coming out just as soon as humanly possible.

Expat Files: Do Civics & Civility Begin At School?

Canada’s last federal election was just about a year ago (October 21, 2019) and as the head of a Canadian Jewish Day School – located in the federal capital no less – I have exactly no vivid memories of the election.

It isn’t that I don’t remember the run up, or the campaigns, or that there weren’t lots of spirited workplace conversation.  It isn’t that I don’t remember the election itself or the results or that people didn’t have feelings or opinions about the outcome.  All of those things happened.  But I cannot identify any specific moment or memory that stands out as noteworthy.

I was the head of an American Jewish Day School in 2008 (Las Vegas) and in 2012 (Jacksonville).  [In 2016, I was working for Prizmah.]  I have clear and distinct memories of both, and here I mean in terms of my normal workaday life in schools, not in my overall awareness.  I remember fraught and painful conversations as both faculty and parent communities tried to reconcile strong partisan feelings (and sometimes rancor) with our work to create safe, nurturing, inclusive school communities that were supposed to foster critical thinking skills.  The day after those elections were either funerals or celebrations depending on which team you were on.  You could see the secret high-fives and commiserating glances up and down the hallways.

Sen. Joe Lieberman Visits SSDS-LV, 2008

I don’t recall a single parent last year expressing a concern about how we were teaching or talking about the election.  Our Grade 8s had opportunity to meet with candidates and parties by virtue of our geography and I don’t recall a single parent asking that their child not be exposed to that person or that party.  In 2008, Senator Joe Lieberman (who at that point in his career was a John McCain surrogate) came to visit our tiny school in Las Vegas.  Let’s just say that people (including my father z”l) had feelings.  When Barack Obama became President and wanted to offer anodyne greetings as part of a “back to school” message, not only did we have to secure permission slips, we had families insist that their children be pulled out of class so as not to hear it.  In 2012, the most beloved teacher (Judy Reppert, z”l) in our school was bombarded with questions and criticisms as she tried to navigate “current events”.  When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to our Jewish Community Campus in 2018 for a Rosh Hashanah program, it raised exactly no eyebrows as community leaders – some of whom strongly oppose his politics – welcomed him and happily posed for selfies (guilty!).

PM Justin Trudeau Visits Ottawa Jewish Community Campus, 2018

Why?  Why this stark disparity in both civics and civility?  It is very tempting to be reductive (Canada, Good; America, Bad), but I neither feel that way nor is it true.  Political scientists will rightfully point to differing founding narratives, a huge disparity in homogeneity, surprisingly (to an uneducated American) different political systems, among other explanations.  But I am a school-person – my expertise is in education and my milieu are schools.   And so let me humbly suggest perhaps that civics and civility begin at school…

An illustration…

…I am usually the first person to arrive at school each day, after the security guards.  More often than not, I come in to find our two security guards engaged in high-level political discourse, not only about local and national politics, but about American and world politics.  They are well-read and well-informed.  I would wager that these two Canadian security guards know way more about American politics than any two average Americans.  I cannot be more clear that this is not a backhanded compliment or a knock on “security guards”.  What it is, is an indictment of civic engagement and information literacy in the States.

Our responsibility as schools seem simple, straightforward and entirely non-controversial.  We should educate our students as to how our political system works.  We should teach them the history of national politics.  We should instill in them the desire to participate fully in the political process and to proudly exercise their right to vote. We should encourage them to seek truth so that their beliefs and attitudes about how government should work (one of the definitions of “politics“) are rooted in objective reality.  They should learn to be respectful of differing opinions and to always keep an open mind.  And they should honour the office regardless of who holds it.

The most difficult trend in political discourse (particularly in the States), which impacts our ability to help students “seek truth,” is the seeming inability to agree on an objective truth – about just about anything.  This is particularly challenging in schools where the ability to develop critical thinking skills is amongst our highest responsibilities.  Facts are facts and opinions are opinions.  Or at least they used to be.

As facts themselves have been called into question, politicized, and debated, it makes it more challenging for schools to play their proper roles.  We want to provide students with the tools and skills they need to discern truth from fiction, fact from opinion.  Armed with facts, they can then form informed opinions.  When we cannot collectively point to a fact and call it a “fact” any hope for intelligent debate fades away.  What is a school (or society) to do?

Teach, that’s what.

We lean into civic engagement and information literacy.  Here, in our nation’s capital, we are blessed to have lots of opportunity to connect our school and students to the political process.  Our teachers (primarily, but not exclusively, in Social Studies) take this work seriously.  It is not extracurricular; it is curricular.  We are also blessed here with a wonderful librarian who has serious information literacy chops.  Brigitte Ruel has the best OJCS blog that you are not reading often enough.  Our students are provided with the tools they need to determine what is and what is not a credible source, how to be a “fact finder” in a time of misinformation, and how be an ace fact-checker.  And those are just examples…

Civility is not merely a concept, but a value, and one that schools should be able to model as well as teach.  We certainly do our best here. Elections are an exciting time to be a citizen.  As Jewish day schools, they are powerful opportunities to demonstrate how to have complicated and important conversations in accord with our highest values.  All we can do is our best. We try to live up to our ideals.  We teach facts.  We provide respectful space for opinions.  We encourage civic participation.

We witness history and celebrate the miracle of democracy.

Ken y’hi ratzon.

Expat Files: Why Don’t We Make Hand Turkeys?

I distinctly recall during my first year here in Canada, as the calendar moved into October, being excited to celebrate my first Thanksgiving in Canada – or as we call it in the States, “Canadian Thanksgiving”.  I kept waiting for the teachers in the youngest grades to start teaching the (Canadian) Thanksgiving story, primarily so I could learn it, and for the school to start to fill with hand-turkeys and whatever the equivalent of Pilgrim hats and Native American headdresses would be.


Depending on who I spoke with and what their understanding was, I learned two things pretty early:

  1. Canadian Thanksgiving ain’t American Thanksgiving.
  2. Jews don’t really do Canadian Thanksgiving.

Now neither is technically nor universally true.  There is a LOT that is the same between how Thanksgiving came to be in both places and what traditions have built up around them.  You have an origin story centered around a ship’s arrival to a new land.  You have a deep connection to the harvest.  You even have football (if you want to call the CFL “football)!  For my American friends who want a primer on competing Thanksgivings, this is my recommendation.

And there are Jews who celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada (and not just American expats who do it November)!  However, it does play out differently here.  Some say it is because it so much closer to the Jewish High Holidays and Sukkot that the big ideas – harvest, family and gratitude – have already been addressed and so there isn’t a need to do it all over again so soon.  (Sometimes it falls during the Jewish holidays.)  Some say that it – in Canada – had or has Christian overtones that make it feel less comfortable for Jews to fully embrace.  But there are plenty of Jewish families in Canada who will do up the whole thing.  For my American friends who want a primer on why Jews are less likely to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving, this is my recommendation.

More important than of this, of course, is the opportunity that Thanksgiving grants me to write a blog post of gratitude.  (When you commit to writing a weekly post, you have to take your inspiration when it comes.)  I focus my energy around Rosh Hashanah to do a bit of annual reflection.  I focus my energy around Yom Kippur to lean into forgiveness.  I focus my energy around Sukkot to encourage new practices and traditions.  Starting now, I think it will be my tradition – my way of connecting to Thanksgiving in Canada – to have an annual opportunity to focus my energy on gratitude.  (That way, I can still make the focus of American Thanksgiving – which my family still celebrates – on overeating and overwatching football.)

What I am grateful for this Thanksgiving:

  • never get political in my blog, but I don’t think it will make huge waves to say that I am very grateful that we are living here in Canada during this most interesting of times on our continent.
  • I am grateful for the technology that keeps me connected to friends and family.  Living through a pandemic 20 years ago would be unimaginable without FaceTime and Zoom and Google Meet.  That we get to “see” parents and grandparents across closed borders and thousands of miles is truly a modern-day miracle.
  • I am eternally grateful to have a wife, Jaimee, whose Type A/perfectionist mothering and wife-ing creates so much space for me to dedicate my time and energy to my work and my passion.
  • I am thankful to have landed in a Jewish community that is extraordinarily capable and generous; a community that is committed to its future by its support for Jewish day school.
  • I am grateful to have landed in a Jewish day school that is full of committed, talented, caring, innovating and hardworking teachers.  A school is only as good as its teachers and we have a pretty great school!

I could go on, of course, but let me just say that I am also grateful to anyone and everyone who has ever read, shared, or commented on one of my 350+ blog posts over the years.  You often wonder/worry that you are speaking into the wind, but every now and again someone takes the time to let you know that they are, in fact, paying attention.  And that always feels great.

Feel free to share what you are grateful for in the comments or, more importantly, with friends and family.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Praying With Your Legs: An Expat’s Perspective

A group held a “Justice 4 George” rally outside the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota. (Leah Larocque/CTV News Ottawa)

I logged into my Google Meet on Wednesday, ready for another adventure in Grade 6 Tefillah, and as each 11-and 12-year old joined up, I noticed that a significant number of them had changed their avatars to symbols and signs of social protest.  Here I sit, an American expatriate living and working in Canada’s capital, heading up a community Jewish day school where expressions of social justice and repair are logical conclusions to curricular content, and while the grownups carefully plan what is and what is not appropriate to teach, to discuss and to do – while I struggle to decide whether and how to use my voice – a group of (mostly) white, Jewish Canadian children with little to no education in American race relations, little to no experience of racism or prejudice, and little to no understanding of police brutality have already left me behind.

Yesterday, I had a chance to participate in a very special program and conversation with our Grade 5 students and Special Guest Tande Maughn and we are gearing up for a Middle School one next week.  But the impetus did not come from me.  Grade 5 General Studies Teacher Melissa Thompson took the lead.  While I struggled to decide whether and how to engage our Canadian Jewish school in an American social protest movement, our teachers – almost none of whom share my American background or education – left me behind.


Lots of unsatisfying reasons…

In March of 2018 (my first year in Canada), I wrote a response to Parkland and Las Vegas where I expressed my disorientation,

…a strong feeling that I cannot quite put my finger on – somewhere sour between FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out).  I feel motivated to do something, grateful to not have to, left out of a conversation I don’t want to have to be in, but feel guilty for missing out on…I have neither an audience nor an address.

The issue there was, of course, gun violence.

Now even when working in the States, I always took great care not to wade too deeply into matters of controversy and politics over the years.


Before moving to Ottawa, we spent 12 years in Nevada and Northern Florida deeply embedded in Jewish communities whose purple and [Republican] red political hues contrasted sharply with our deep [Democratic] blue upbringing and bicoastal lives to that point.  We have learned to respectfully disagree with dear friends whose views [on guns] run counter to our own.  We are proud Americans.  We were proud when we lived in California, New York, Nevada and Florida.  We are proud now that we live in Canada.

So there is a part of this that is about having had my cultural and political bubble healthily punctured to welcome people of good intent with very different views than my own brought in.  But I don’t think my reticence is just about being worried about injecting myself (and by proxy the school) into a polarized place.

There is certainly a sense that I don’t know enough about the different history of Black Canadians.  [Just saying “Black” is hard for me to type as I have been conditioned to say “African American”.  When we moved here, one of my daughters asked me what we should call “African Americans” in Canada?  African Canadians?  It is still hard for me to say “Black” without feeling insensitive.  That’s a trivial example of cultural bias for an American living abroad.]  I don’t know enough about the relationship between the Canadian Jewish Community and the Black Canadian Community to make best meaning of this moment.  And so part of my reluctance to speak is fear of being ignorant.

Our speaker in Grade 5 came to us and spoke from her heart and, thus, touched ours.  I told the students that one of the bravest things you can do is to allow yourself to be vulnerable to others.  And so, I should try to live up to that myself.  To say nothing would suggest that I have no stake in this issue, that it neither impacts me nor is it incumbent upon me to participate in.  But as a citizen and as an educator, as a human being and as a Jew, I do have a stake, I am impacted and I do believe it is incumbent upon me to participate.  And I will, like many others, have to struggle to figure out what participation looks like because I am unwilling to remain forever a bystander.  Are we our brother’s keeper? What does that keeping look like on this issue and at this time?

If Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who described his marching with Martin Luther King Jr. as “praying with legs,” could risk life and limb to make the world a better place, I can and should do more.  If we want our schools and our children to really matter to black (and brown and impoverished and diverse and etc.) lives in our communities, we will need to do more than engage in hashtag activism and social media blackouts.  We will need to engage with people, even if doing so is complicated by social distancing.  That’s what we did yesterday in Grade 5.  That’s what we are doing next week in our Middle School.  Small steps forward, but steps nonetheless.

The truth is that to stay on the sidelines for fear of political correctness or for fear of getting a few facts mistaken would be an abnegation of our responsibility.  All we can do is our best.  We try to live up to our ideals.  We teach facts.  We provide respectful space for opinions.  We encourage civic participation.  We acknowledge that when one of us cannot speak, then none of us can speak.  And as we have been reminded yet again, when one of us cannot breathe, then none of us can easily draw a breath.

For we are all made in the image of “the God in whose hand thy breath is in” (Daniel 5:23).

Habits of Kindness: Put First Things First

So Rosh Chodesh Tevet will take place over the weekend, but never fear, we will hold our Rosh Chodesh Tevet Assembly on Monday morning!  And with another Rosh Chodesh comes the introduction, from our “7 Habits Prototype Team” and Knesset, of the third of the 7 Habits: Put First Things First.

As the song says, there are 525,600 minutes in one year.  However, when you consider that approximately 175,200 minutes of that time will be spent sleeping, 16,425 minutes spent eating, and if you’re a student, 72,000 minutes spent in school, you have less than half that total to spend on the rest of your life. Therefore, it is essential to do the important things first—if you leave them until last, you might run out of time.

You know how something is so obvious that you dismiss it?

That’s how I feel about this habit.

You have likely heard that song and/or seen that video numerous times in the past and you know that the moral of the story is to remember that your big rocks are your family and friends and to not get bogged down in the sands of workaholism and workaday concerns.

So why did I get to work yesterday at 7:00 AM and come home at 9:15 PM?

Why do so many of us struggle with finding balance when we know where our true priorities lie?

I don’t have an answer…but I do have an opportunity!

[Bonus Expat File Mini-Post:]

I really believe that Canada is a place that pays more than lip service to work-life balance and wellness.  It may not have quite rubbed off on me yet, but I welcome the opportunity to share and reflect with my Canadian colleagues about how we try to keep ourselves spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically prepared to passionately pursue our profession while remaining loving and present spouses, partners, parents, children and friends.

I have made two commitments to wellness this year that are a constant source of teasing…

…I purchased a mini-standing desk for laptop users.

…I purchased a seasonal affective disorder lamp.

I have seen the articles all about how “sitting is the new smoking” and if that is even partly true, I am sadly stage something with sitting.  So I am now standing a few hours a day at my desk and we’ll see what happens!

It is dark when I get to school and dark when I leave school.  And for fun, for about half the year it is pretty dark while I am at school too!  So I have decided to see if one of these SAD lights will keep me un-SAD during the long winter months.

What do you do to “put first things first”?  Feel free to share your secrets via a quality comment on this blog!

Expat Files: The Heartbreaking JOMO of Gun Violence

I have been thinking about this and testing out a few ideas on social media before Parkland, but after Las Vegas.  I have watched and read how my colleagues back in the States and my former coworkers at Prizmah have organized, mobilized, written, advocated and participated in a variety of conversations, gatherings, and experiences in response to the surge in gun violence, culminating in the ways many Jewish day schools chose to participate in yesterday’s student walkout.  I have been impressed and inspired by their words and their deeds, especially those of the students themselves.  And yet…

I was watching yesterday’s student walkout play out live through social media and it left me with a strong feeling that I cannot quite put my finger on – somewhere sour between FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out).  I feel motivated to do something, grateful to not have to, left out of a conversation I don’t want to have to be in, but feel guilty for missing out on…I have neither an audience nor an address.

Before moving to Ottawa, we spent 12 years in Nevada and Northern Florida deeply embedded in Jewish communities whose purple and red political hues contrasted sharply with our deep blue upbringing and bicoastal lives to that point.  We have learned to respectfully disagree with dear friends whose views on guns run counter to our own.  As head of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, FL, I had to write my own responses to local tragedy when a colleague was gunned down in her office at a private school in our neighborhood, and to national tragedies such as Sandy Hook.  As head of the Schechter Day School Network and as part of the leadership of Prizmah, I had ample opportunity to write articles and participate in conversations as each new bubble of gun violence burst.  We are proud Americans.  We were proud when we lived in California, New York, Nevada and Florida.  We are proud now that we live in Canada.  But I cannot pretend to be proud of this part of the American experience…

Part of my desire to dedicate a section of my blog to “Expat Files” is to give me space to explore the many cultural differences between living in the States and living in Canada.  And the emphasis should be on the word “many”.  It isn’t all maple syrup and dogsledding. These are different countries with different histories, different forms of government (perhaps nevermore different than now), different shared assumptions, different languages (and I mean Canadian English, not just French), and when it comes to gun violence, completely different experiences.

It is not to say that gun violence doesn’t exist in Canada or that it is completely immune to school shootings…but I don’t believe parents worry that their child will go to school one day and not return home. And as one of those parents, I freely admit that I kinda prefer it that way.

Will this time be different?  Has the passion and advocacy of the Parkland survivors sparked a flame that apathy, special interests and a short attention span cannot extinguish?  I pray that the answer is, “yes,” while fearing that it is likely, “no.”

What is my responsibility as an American abroad beyond voting? What is my response as a Jewish educator beyond blogging?  What is my opportunity to contribute as the head of a Canadian Jewish day school in a field often described as “North American”, but with way more emphasis (for all kinds of reasons) on the “American” than the “North”?

Do our children have an obligation or an opportunity to put their Canadian Jewish values into practice?

I’m working on it…and open to suggestion.

Expat Files: Please and Thanks

Let’s talk about yogurt…

Nothing makes you feel more American than discovering what you think is snack-size is apparently appropriate for an adult meal. Nothing crystallizes my emigration experience from America like my search for a Canadian yogurt that doesn’t make me appear Brobdingnagian.

If your spoon doesn’t fit the yogurt container, it cannot possibly contain enough yogurt to be a meal.  Yes?  If the container fits in your closed fist, it cannot have enough protein to get you through four hours.  Right?  Maybe the European alcohol proofing in the beer makes it up on the other side?  I am definitely not starving here in Ottawa.  But I am definitely not satisfied with the yogurt situation. Stay tuned.

In other expatriate news, I have only returned my coffee three times forgetting that the default position for “coffee” apparently comes with milk and sugar.  You can get a joint checking account, but cannot get a joint credit card.  You can get tires at the supermarket and grills at the tire store.  The credit card machine comes to you.  Gambling is apparently legal and bingo is big.  The DVR has become a PVR and like half the channels appear two or more times in your guide, so I have wound up recording the same show like three times too many.

In expatriate educational news, you can be a Supply Teacher or an Occasional Teacher (that is my favorite job title ever), but not a Substitute Teacher.  You can be an Educational Assistant, but not a Teaching Assistant nor Assistant Teacher.  Do NOT confuse “college” for “university”.  You are in Grade Six, not Sixth Grade.  You do not misbehave, you dis-regulate.  (Giving new meaning to the idea of “staying regular”.  Ba-dum-bum.)  You don’t have snack, you get a nutrition break. Washroom (not bathroom).

You get the idea…Canada is a different country.  Brilliant.

I remember moving to the Upper West Side of Manhattan and revisiting Seinfeld reruns to pick up the nuances I missed upon first viewing.  I am not entirely sure what the exact equivalent is here, but I am considering The Kids in the Hall, Degrassi High and You Can’t Do That on Television for starters (and to totally date myself).

We have officially been in Canada for over two weeks and I am finishing up my second week here at OJCS.  I am very excited and encouraged by it all.  I am looking forward to seeing my kids next week (they are finished with camp and enjoying time with grandparents) and to having our whole family together again and here in Ottawa.  I am looking forward to attending Prizmah’s Governance and Fundraising Academy’s (GFA) conference in St. Louis next week with a few of our lay leaders.  It will be nice to reconnect with my friends from Prizmah and with my colleagues from the other participating Jewish day schools (with extra joy to see folk from my first school, the Solomon Schechter Day School of Las Vegas).


As I ease back into weekly blog posts, I am preparing to (re)focus on my OJCS stakeholder community as one primary audience.  I will begin linking my blog to the school’s website and pushing out new posts through its social media (in addition to my social media).  I will be thinking about how to integrate/revise the school’s existing channels of communication (Constant Contacts, email, GoogleClassroom, social media, website, etc.) to ensure parents, students and teachers have one clear address to find all they need and that all our communication vehicles are driving to that address. I will be sharing transparently about the big issues we are facing, the big conversations we are having, the big decisions we are contemplating, the big news we have to share and anything else worthy of your attention.  [Spoiler Alert: Announcing the OJCS 2017-2018 Faculty coming soon!]  Hopefully you will participate in those conversations by commenting on this blog, by liking/sharing/commenting on social media, by email, phone call or just dropping by for a cup of coffee (no milk, no sugar).

And for those of you who have been with me on this crazy journey across time zones, schools, organizations and countries, I hope you will continue to find this blog worth the read.

Please and thanks.

L’hitraot Y’all: A Farewell to Seven Years of SaltLife

“Salt Life” bumper stickers originated in Jacksonville, Florida and are originally stickers on the back of cars that used to indicate a surfer or body boarder whose life is centered on beach. Salt Life is a way of life and dress brand for individuals who adore surfing, boarding, and all things shoreline and wave related. The term “salt life” means a kind of boho beach lifestyle, now it’s also a company that promotes it.

My very first blog post was called “Southern Hospitality” accompanied by the above photo of Jacksonville Beach and was written almost exactly seven years ago.

How do you even try to wrap up seven years of a life?  Images, quotes, data, audio, memories start to flood the mind making it difficult to make sense of what a chapter that long in a life truly means.  We’ve all aged, but our girls have definitely aged in a much more fun way than their parents.  Professionally, I have had the unique (at least in my profession) opportunity to share farewells from each of the three amazing professional opportunities that occupied much of my time while living in Jacksonville.  Our journey from Las Vegas to Jacksonville was to assume the headship of the Martin J. Gottlieb Day School. Four years later it was time to say farewell

Next up was my executive directorship of the Schechter Day School Network.  Two years later it was time to say farewell

And just last week, I reflected and said farewell to Prizmah

So, I wouldn’t blame you for being sick of hearing me say “good-bye” at this point.  I’m tired of saying “good-bye” and we don’t actually leave for Canada for another week and change!  But. Professional good-byes only cover so much.  Seven years is longer than anywhere I have ever lived in my life as an adult and pretty close to the longest that I have ever lived anywhere at all ever.  A chapter of life this impactful is worthy of more than a series of professional reflections and thank-you’s however heartfelt.

And to think…that a guy who hates the beach could love a salt life.

Things That Definitely Happened During These Seven Years

  • Maytal went from 2 to 9; Eliana went from 4 to 11.
  • Jaimee and I went from 8 years married to 15.
  • We lived in two houses.
  • We voted in two different presidential elections and had very different feelings about the outcomes.
  • I successfully transitioned saying “y’all” ironically to non-ironically.
  • There were at least 11 days in which I did not sweat.
  • We went a on a variety of road trips only to abuse social media with friendly hashtags like #MitzmacherSummerFamilyRoadTrip2015Day12EatingASandwichInRoanokeVirginiaOnlyToAnnoyFriendsAndFamily
  • I had a love affair with no less than three styles of travel bags.
  • My children can identify each brand of Hilton by their signature cookie.
  • I can identify each airline by their signature customer service approaches to delays-cancellations-rebooks-refunds.
  • I checked “airport shoeshine” off my superficial bucket list (#SuperficialBucketList).  It was pretty awesome.
  • Who likes Mint Juleps?  Apparently we do.
  • I went from a .7 mile commute in Las Vegas to a .5 commute in Jacksonville to a 37-step commute inside my own house.  Take that carbon footprint.  Sure, I’ll be driving the same minivan for 23 years at this rate, but I saved the world from climate change.  You are welcome.


When we moved here seven summers ago, lots of folk asked “Why Jacksonville?”  (Just like now we are cycling through a round of “Why Ottawa?”)  Well, despite the risk of cliche, “southern hospitality” was really part of what drew us to this community – its genuine warmth and welcoming nature.  So warm and so welcome, in fact, that we were quite convinced when we first arrived with muffins delivered and wagons welcomed, that perhaps we, ourselves (or really who are we kidding, me) weren’t nice enough to live here. In the same ways that I found my work environment as nurturing and supportive as any I have ever worked in, I would say that we found our overlapping work, school, shul, and Jewish communities all that and an authentic biscuit.  All four of us leave Jacksonville with treasured friends for life.

Las Vegas is a community where (almost) no one is from; Jacksonville is community where (virtually) everyone is from.  We learned in Las Vegas the power of opening up our homes to build community – as teachable moments, for professional networking, to enrich our children, to make a life – and kicked it up a few notches in Jacksonville.  As our annual holiday celebrations grew and grew each year, no guest felt more grateful than Jaimee and I did as hosts. We hope to continue to pay forward the warm welcomes of prior homes in our next chapter.

Speaking of Jaimee…

How blessed am I.

I have no idea how someone can work full time while seemingly being a full-time wife and mother at the same time, but somehow Jaimee manages.  Her organizationals skills are epic and well-documented.  Her cooking skills have evolved past recognition from box-and-boil to multi-course-from-scratch delicacies.  Late-night meetings became biweekly business trips, but somehow everyone got where they were supposed to be.  She’s an amazing educator in her own right, influencing me professionally more than she knows, my closer, my partner, and my bestie.  For the last 18 years, we’ve taken many leaps of faith from job to job and from community to community, but always together.


And so we say our final (for real this time) goodbyes as we await the moving trucks in the days ahead…

What happened in Vegas definitely didn’t stay there; what happened in Jacksonville won’t stay there as well.  We will remain connected to the people and places who continue to shape and contribute to our lives as we look forward to all the new experiences awaiting us in Ottawa.  Follow our story on social media if you like, as we will surely follow yours.

We’ll always have flip-flops in January.  #SaltLife Out.

The Expat Files: Spellcheque

Will I be marked down for spelling like an American? – Eliana M., Age 11

I was trying to figure out why all of my received emails from Ottawa were totally marked up with red lines…and then for like the 150th time since our move to Canada became official, I was reminded of what on the surface seems totally obvious: Canada is a different country!

I know.  You already knew that.  I did, too.  But like a good American, I really didn’t take all that much time to unpack what that really meant until circumstances required me to.  So, in recognition of all the new experiences emigration is providing me and my family, I want to introduce a new feature of my blog: “The Expat Files”.

Blog posts in “The Expat Files” will focus in on one family’s journey from America to Canada.  I might zoom in on such hot-button issues as which “spellcheck” language I am supposed to click, porting your cell phone number, or why the only doctor who can submit our emigration exams is 300 miles away.  I might zoom out how our experiences with socialized medicine, parliamentary democracy, and state-sponsored media inform what we believe to be true as American citizens.  But, what I imagine I will mostly do, is share a bunch of completely embarrassing situations that reveal how little I know about things that I probably should, but don’t.

Hold that thought.

Two additional sub-features to “The Expat Files” will provide you with an opportunity to enhance your reading experience.  I will include a curated musical playlist and a signature cocktail to accompany each post.  [Thanks to Nancy Davis for the inspiration.]  I can assure you that it is the same playlist I am listening to while writing…

Signature Playlist: For the first post, I offer up Spotify’s “Canadian Pop”. [Parents be warned that a few songs on the playlist are labeled with “explicit” lyrics.]

Signature Cocktail: Ginder Rum Shandy [Parents be warned that the drinking age in Ontario is 19, which is something I totally just looked up and belongs on the aforementioned list.]

I assure you that future editions of “The Expat Files” will focus in on specific events or issues worthy of going deeper than a Facebook update or a tweet.  However, this inaugural edition comes after an embarrassment of embarrassments, so we’ll wrap up with a series of quick hits.

An Unedited List of Things Jon Has Learned, Realized or Mused

  • Why can’t you choose your own car when you rent a car from National in Canada?
  • Do I sing the Canadian national anthem?  Do my children? Different rules for different contexts (stadiums or school assemblies)?
  • Will the 11 Spanish proverbs I remember from Spanish 5 in high school help me learn French?
  • Is Drake a national treasure?
  • Is there such a thing as Canadian Fantasy Football?
  • Will I start writing with English spellings of words?  Should I?
  • This seems like a particularly charged time for an American to transition to socialized medicine.
  • I genuinely look forward to trying kosher poutine.
  • It would be awesome if the Ottawa Senators won the Stanley Cup while we are in the process of moving to Ottawa.  But it wouldn’t be ironic.  Don’t you think?  #AlanisMorrisette #Ironic
  • We are totally psyched for learning a whole new geography through family road trips.
  • I distinctly remember watching “The Terry Fox Story” on TV when I was eleven and at no point did it occur to me that it would inspire my future employer’s biggest fundraiser.
  • It is pretty awesome watching Maytal and Eliana practice French on their iPads each day.  This is going to be such a wonderful opportunity for them in so many ways.

We have less than two months left before the moving trucks arrive to pack us up.  We have so much more to do both here and there. We have so much to learn and to unlearn.  We are sad to leave what has been a wonderful seven years in Jacksonville.  We are excited to begin what will surely be a wonderful new chapter in Ottawa.

You are welcome to join our adventure here in “The Expat Files”.