I Am Not a Taxpayer

I am not a taxpayer. I am a father of four, a husband and a member of several communities of common interest but I refuse to be reduced to a financial transactional unit. I’m not being taxed to death, in fact my taxes and yours thank you very much, have directly contributed to keeping me alive and well, through several deep illnesses and on a day to day basis as I walk through this life assuming that the police, fire and other emergency professionals will keep me safe.

Our taxes, and yes I’m willing to use the T word are how we share our wealth to make sure that we take care of each other. That’s what citizenship is about. It’s a commitment to the common good.

In an age where as Oscar Wilde wrote “we know the price of everything and the value of nothing” that government is not the customer service desk at Walmart, which by the way still pays poverty wages. It is the an expression of our common values and ethics.

The more we fear for our economic future the more we must guard
against cutting each other loose. In Spain where the financial paradigm
has crumbled there is a restaurant where half the clientele pay full price for their meal and half work for an hour or two to receive the same meal with dignity.

Our lives are lived in a fleeting moment in time. If we are fortunate
enough to reflect before leaving it is only what we have done to create
and cultivate loving relationships that will have mattered.

I am not a taxpayer. Not everything is about being a “customer” or a consumer. I am a citizen and nothing less will do.

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The New Sabbath Project Hits CIUT Airwaves – Sundays @2

New Sabbath Project on Radio – 89.5 FM Toronto
Listen at:

A little while back Ken Stowar, the man who makes CIUT hum and of whom I’ve always been a fan, got in touch with me and asked me if I’d like to have a little corner of his radio station in which to putter around.

Now, I love radio but my work these days goes in a mighty different direction — as Executive Advisor to the President of Sheridan College. The job in post-secondary education has captured my imagination and really energized me and I wasn’t sure if there was much I wanted to talk about with folks on the radio.

But then I let it rumble around inside me for a while and along with
my partner Cortney Pasternak we decided that there were some things worth airing as it were. You see we do something called The New Sabbath Project. It’s our way of building community — one meal at a time. We do it on Friday nights and we invite all kinds of people to join us. Some are old friends, some we barely know and others we’ve never met — they just contacted us through our site and because of articles they read and asked to join. Dinner is a feast and our guests are expected to bring some food and drink along with them.

We begin our sabbath / shabbat celebration by gathering round the wine and cheese, dip our bread into homemade Hummous and slowly draw the curtain on our workaday lives and enter the architecture in time that is the 7th day. Some who come are secular, some are not. It doesn’t matter. When we sit to eat we light the candles as is the tradition I come from and say the blessing over them. Then we ask everyone to say a blessing over anything they like. I’m always amazed at how heart-felt and moving the simplest of blessings can be. Some mention God, most don’t. I’ve always thought I should do a show called “God or whatever.”

Anyways, after the blessings we raise our glasses, bless the wine, toast each other and break bread, literally. You see the Moroccan tradition that I grew up in meant that you took the Challah — the Sabbath, sweet egg bread and tore pieces off, dipped them lightly in salt to remind us of the bitterness and proximity of all that can enslave us and then the host throws the bread across the table starting from the oldest participant down to the youngest.

I’ve gotten pretty accurate over the years although occasionally it does end up in someone’s glass of water. After that we eat and drink and talk. The amazing thing is after we have done our blessings there is an intimacy
that seems to bring out the best in us; the passion; the sincerity; the big talk and soft hearts. For six days we do and for one day we are allowed to just be — with each other. This is what the 7th day brings, if you let it.

On the inaugural New Sabbath Project radio show, we’ll talk about the Sabbath as a day of reflection, an act of courage and, for those committed to — gasp — unplugging — an act of political and environmental resistance. Next week who knows? You may try tossing some bread around yourselves.

You can also listen at:
TuneIn Radio App
iTunes Radio (listed under campus radio)
StarChoice Satellite, Channel 826
Rogers Digital Cable, Channel 946
Bell Fibe TV, Channel 970

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Sharing Circle, Dinner Circle-Guest Blog on New Sabbath Project

“As Leonard Cohen says you must build a fence around the sacred if you want to protect and nurture it in your life. Our New Sabbath Project is a step in that direction.” — Ralph Benmergui

This was how recent social innovator and community builder Craig Carter-Edwards recently began his guest blog for the New Sabbath Project. He was quoting Ralph who was paraphrasing Leonard Cohen from an interview he did with Cohen many years ago. We thank Craig for his contribution and we urge you to read his blog by clicking on the link above, visit his site, then visit ours. Please retweet and repost. Let’s build community and spread the word.

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The New Sabbath Equation – Guest Blog by Luke Murphy

Not many laws of physics can improve your life. This one can:

The coefficient of static friction is greater than the coefficient of dynamic friction.*

What this means is: it takes more effort to start something moving than to keep it moving.

If you’re pushing a car, the heart attack will come during those first furious shoves while you’re trying to make it start rolling. At that stage, your enemy is the coefficient of static friction. As soon as the wheels are turning, you can amble down the street, pushing the car before you while calling out cheery greetings to passers by. Why? Because now you’re working against dynamic friction, a puny force by comparison.

So it is with anything we do: the hard part is overcoming the inertia of an object at rest, which means getting off the couch and committing to the job.Once you’ve defeated the fridge-sized fire-breathing lizard that is the Coefficient of Static Friction, his cousin, the Coefficient of Dynamic Friction, will seem like a sleepy gecko on a hot day. Coefficient of Static Friction

The New Sabbath Project is about building community by having people over for dinner. Putting on a dinner is one of those things like working out regularly, reading Moby Dick, or writing the blog post that you’ve promised: you know you ought to do it but today’s not ideal, maybe when the weather improves, we don’t have enough plates, etc etc. Those excuses are the Coefficient of Static Friction sitting on your chest, his scaly haunches pressing you into the couch.

Static Friction likes you to keep things theoretical, aspirational, potential – anything other than real. Static Friction cannot be reasoned with, bargained with, or met half way. He has to be pushed aside and flung into the dark corner where you lost the battery cover for the remote. His greatest fear is action.

Any physical action will give you the strength to raise Static Friction’s leaden lizard loins from off your wheezing chest. When you know you need to put on a dinner – not a theoretical some-day-we-must dinner, but a real event with real people – the best first step is to email or phone your first choice of guests and ask them. At that point, you can’t go back on it without faking a medical emergency, family tragedy or house fire, all of which will demand more effort than simply putting on a dinner. Yes, the Coefficient of Dynamic Friction – gecko-sized cousin of Static Friction, you recall – will nip at your heels and make hissing noises, but Dynamic Friction is, contrary to his name, lazy by nature and easy to ignore.

Host a dinner. Invite a combination of friends and newcomers. Ask the guests to bring some food: it’s less work and less cost for you and gives them something to take pride in. Repeat, whenever you can. Our heroic hosts Ralph and Cortney do this every week; you don’t have to.

And one odd characteristic of the Coefficient of Static Friction: he gets lighter the more often you fling him off your chest. That part is not explained by physics.
*It’s not actually a law, more of a rule of thumb. There are three laws related to friction, Amonton’s First and Second Laws and Coulomb’s Law. They state, more or less: (i) the heavier you are, the harder it is to get off the couch; (ii) it doesn’t matter whether you’re lying on the couch or have one buttock on the arm rest, you’re still stuck on the couch; and (iii) once you’ve got off the couch and started moving, it won’t get any harder (or easier) to keep moving.

Luke Murphy is a freelance writer, filmmaker, animator and designer. Born in West Berlin and brought up in Ireland, he currently lives in Toronto and works on documentaries, screenplays, and fiction.

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Knock Knock, Who’s There? Guest Blog By Award Winning Journalist and Author, Wendy Dennis

I met Ralph for the first time about a month ago, when a mutual friend connected us on a work matter. At some point during our conversation, he told me about the New Sabbath Project. It sounded interesting, so I asked how I might become involved. “We’re hoping people will hold their own dinners and invite people from their circle,” he said, “but you’re welcome to have dinner at our home any time.” Then he gave me the date of their next dinner, with the proviso that he’d confirm the invite after first checking with his wife Cortney about guest numbers and so

He did confirm, and that is how, a few weeks later, I found myself knocking on the door of the Benmergui-Pasternak home
in mid-town Toronto with a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and a container of ginger candied carrots in hand. (The only pre-dinner request was that I bring a bottle of wine and, if possible, “a side dish that goes with chicken”.) Bear in mind that when I stood on the porch of the B-P home that evening, I’d only known Ralph for about an hour and had never actually met Cortney. As it turned out, when I showed up at the door, she didn’t appear to have been expecting me. (For the record, Ralph insists he told her.)

I bring this up not to embarrass anybody or get in the middle of a divergence of marital opinion (or what may or may not have
been a breakdown in marital communications). We are, after all, talking about a couple who somehow manage to put together
regular Friday night dinners (to which they apparently invite complete strangers), despite holding two full-time jobs (and then some), parenting two little kids, and dealing with whatever else they have to deal with in their no doubt over-scheduled lives. (Ralph also has two big kids from a previous marriage so you can factor in that as well.)

Anyway, in spite of the glitch, Cortney graciously welcomed me, offered me wine, ushered me into the living room, sat me down in front of a plate of appetizers, which I immediately began inhaling, and made me feel totally at home.
Home is the operative word, because everything about Ralph and Cortney’s home and the evening that followed was immeasurably homey—or, as we Jews like to say—haimishe.

From the aromas that greeted me at the door and immediately transported me, madeleine-like, back to the Friday night dinners of my childhood, to the casual kid clutter and family photographs everywhere, to an actual real live kid named Emmanuel who was running around and greeting everybody, the ambience evoked a homey feeling at every turn.Soon the other guests arrived and the Proseco and conversation began to flow. Then we moved on to dinner, which began with blessings over the candles, wine and bread—the bread being Cortney’s home-made challah, and about which all I will say
IS this: once you tear off a chunk (and tearing off a chunk is the only way to eat it), you are willing to become a challah whore to get your hands on another.
Next, Ralph went around the table and asked each of us to offer a blessing for someone or something we felt moved to offer one for.

The blessings were simple and eloquent. Besides providing an insight about the person delivering it, each one
engendered a lovely sense of connection with that person. The food was plentiful, the meal amazing, the conversation
thoughtful and engaging and the atmosphere utterly unpretentious.
After the meal, Ralph asked each of us to express thanks for something for which we felt grateful that week, and so we went around the table once again. At this point, I feel I should mention that I am basically a heathen. What I mean by that is that while Jewish cultural traditions were a big part of my growing up years, unlike virtually all of my relatives and friends, my family didn’t belong to a synagogue, or attend one, even on the High Holidays. Nor did my siblings and I attend Hebrew school—unlike everyone else we knew. While I did grow up with Friday night dinners, by the time my own generation came of age, that ritual had mostly become a thing of the past, and I haven’t actually been to a Friday night dinner since, well, last century.

But there I was, sitting at a table and offering blessings in front of people I’d only just met (none of whom were Jewish, by the way, besides the hosts and me), and doing so seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me to be doing. The naturalness of the experience, the feeling of being present in it, and the sense of connection and community it engendered in me, are something I really want to stress, because although I am deeply interested in the idea of connection—with myself, with those I love, with work that engages and inspires me, with larger social, cultural and political matters—I am not, by any means, a let’s-make-a-blessing sort of person. I actually recoil at anything with even the slightest whiff of formal religion or New Agey-ness or groupthink, and if I sense anyone trying to shove that sort of thing down my throat, or make me participate in a ritual that feels like a kumbaya moment, I basically start looking for the exits. Which is why the way I felt at Ralph and Cortney’s table is so significant.

The evening felt authentic in the best sense of that word. Not only did it serve as a truly pleasurable oasis at the end of a week of mostly just trying to get through (sound familiar?); the experience inspired me to think about how I might pay it forward. On a more selfish note, I’ve already had a coffee with a writer I met at the dinner who happens to live in my ‘hood and with whom it was helpful and fun to share writerly tips and preoccupations.

So I’m a fan of the New Sabbath Project. I think Ralph and Cortney are onto a pretty cool idea here, and heathen that I am, I’m delighted to have been asked to share in it.
–Wendy Dennis

Wendy Dennis is an award-winning journalist and author who writes for many leading publications, including The Walrus, Toronto Life, where she’s a contributing editor, and House and Home, where she writes a regular column about lifestyle trends.
She has also been a high school English teacher, instructor of magazine writing at Ryerson University, and editor at Toronto Life and Fashion magazines.


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