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.

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”.