When James Pasternak left City Hall on Thursday, he looked wearier than usual. The councillor for Ward 10 (York Centre) had spent the day explaining to reporters what an "Eruv" is. And although clarifying lesser-known elements of Judaism is generally his cup of tea, he probably would have preferred if the reasons for inquiring had been different.
Rob Ford - as Rob Ford often does - had made himself the story. The Orthodox Judaism was just the uncomfortable backdrop.
At 6:00 on Monday, March 18, Mark Mandelbaum, chairman of Lanterra Developments, held a gathering at his home. The invitation to it, printed on classy card stock, had been handed out by Pasternak to his colleagues. It read, in part:
The Toronto Eruv Committee
Mordechai & Lindy Mandelbaum
cordially invite you to a cocktail reception in honour of our esteemed municipal councillors who have been so helpful in the establishment of the Toronto Eruv
James Pasternak was the "guest of honour." The invitation listed Karen Stintz (Ward 16, Eglinton-Lawrence), Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) and Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul's) as coming. Others who made the snowy trek to the Bathurst and Wilson area included Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) and Chin Lee (Ward 41, Scarborough-Rouge River).
The card also included a rather excellent summary of just what an Eruv is:
Observant members of the Jewish faith do not carry anything outside of their homes on the Sabbath or Yom Kippur. For example, they are prohibited to push baby carriages, strollers, or even carry a house key ... However, the Eruv makes all of these permissible and consequently greatly enhances welfare and harmony in the Jewish community. The word Eruv means "mixture." A properly completed Eruv mixes or pools all private and public property rights within its boundaries for the sole purpose of creating a Sabbath domain, the equivalent of one's own home. The Toronto Eruv presently encompasses the area between Hwy. 407 in the north, the CP tracks (around Dupont Street) in the south, the CN tracks (around Leslie Street) in the east and the CN tracks (around Keele Street) in the west. This enclosure was created by utilizing fencing, hydro poles and wire which in most cases already existed. . .
The soiree was held, in part, to announce the planned expansion of the Eruv into the downtown core, as far south as the Gardiner Expressway.
"It was a very noble, courteous event," says Councillor Mihevc, who has a doctorate in theology and social ethics.
It was about sharing "information and also kind of getting to know each other," says Councillor Lee. "I think the community was getting to know various councillors better. And I had my chance to speak to many of the people there." He had a long converation with the coordinator of the Eruv, who "sort of gave me a bit of the education on the Jewish faith. So that's very good, because to represent people, we have to understand what they're about, and we have to respect each other."
Then Rob and Doug Ford showed up. Soon after entering, the mayor - apparently displaying an abnormal degree of energy - launched into a blistering tirade.
Lee laughs when asked what the mayor spoke about. "He talked about next year's election and how he supports the casino, and then if councillors do not support his agenda, he's gonna run people against councillors that don't support his agenda," he says. "At this event, he was talking about that. It was the main crux of his speech."
Did he mention the Eruv at all? "I don't remember him mentioning too much about the Eruv." (Lee says that Ford did, however, "give them a proclamation, letter of congratulations and so on. And he read from the letter.")
Mihevc describes it further: "His political rant was about going after people who were not on his side politically, and how they were going into full-court press mode on the casinos and how important it was that everyone here gathered tell their councillors to support the casino."
Judaism, it should be noted, does not tend to take an especially favourable view of gambling.
"And it is unfortunate that the mayor used the occasion to go on a casino and next-election rant that had nothing to do with the purpose of the evening. And frankly embarrassed the councillors that were there present," says Mihevc.
Asked how the mayor looked that evening, Mihevc pauses, choosing his words. "And to come in a disheveled appearance was not helpful, either."
It was apparently quite the spectacle, even by Ford standards. JP Boutros, a senior advisor to Karen Stintz who was not himself in attendance, later tweeted that the speech had been "one of the more odious things" he'd heard about during his two years at City Hall.
Rabbi Moshe Lowy, on the other hand, is philosophical and measured in his recollection.
"We were surprised he spoke about it, because that wasn't what the gathering was about," the rabbi for Agudath Israel of Toronto says. But Lowy doesn't hold it against him: Ford is a politician, and he saw an opportunity. "He's a mayor that cares, and he felt that was good for the community."
Thursday morning, Pasternak is happy to explain the principle behind an Eruv but becomes laconic when asked about Ford's diatribe. "You are correct, there was a pitch for casinos," he says. "Now, I'm not sure why, I can only assume that if there's a casino, he wants it in the Eruv."
Attempts to reach Mandelbaum - a registered lobbyist whose house the mayor had previously visited for a Pasternak fundraiser - were unsuccessful Thursday.
With files from Ben Spurr