I was born in the ghettoes of Chicago’s South Side in 1961. My first memories are of dilapidated apartments, window frames without windows, trash strewn on the streets, urine-soaked alleys, and a neglected-derived independence. As a three-, four-, and five-year-old, I remember many times coming and going from the apartment my mother, siblings and I shared while my mother, an active alcoholic at that time, had friends over from morning till night — days filled with card games, cigarette smoke and all the beer and vodka they could want. When I was about seven years old, my father, whom I had only met once, came to the apartment announcing that my six siblings and I were going with him. It was the last time I would see my mother for years. Much later, my father told us my mother told him she was moving and leaving us at the apartment, and warned him that if he didn’t come get us, we would be abandoned.
Growing up in a Conservative Jewish home in suburban Toronto, I was a regular attendee at synagogue on Sabbaths and High Holy Days, and I lived a committed Jewish life. My father is a Polish Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz, and my mother’s family escaped the organized massacres of Jews in Russia.
My sister and I were raised in Canada in a Jewish, Yiddish-speaking environment where all our friends were Jewish, and Israel was our raison d’être. Christianity was the religion of the outsiders, the faith of anti-Semites and Jew-haters, the creed of the Crusaders, Inquisitors, Persecutors, and Nazis. Yet my mother would remind me continually that “Jesus was a Jew.”