Rabbi Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Excessive Greenery

A review of Kim Goldberg’s “Neither Slumber Nor Sleep” in Urban Green Man (Edge, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

Cover Art Courtesy of Edge Publications

A rabbi loses his position at the Beth Shalom Congregation when he becomes interested in a new supernatural phenomenon that appears in Nanaimo. Called in to investigate a series of strange events regarding the sighting of a huge Green Goddess figure and sudden surges of greenery over the urban space, the rabbi’s faith is challenged and questioned when he sees a bizarre series of events that defy his beliefs in the logical universe and that seem to reflect a pagan belief system more than they do a Jewish one. But, it is his belief in logic and the undeniable facts of the Green Goddess’ appearance in the city that cause him to eventually believe that she is appearing in the city.

He investigates the situation with logic and deduction, looking at these strange tales and gradually piecing together undeniable evidence that convinces him of the accuracy of these unusual reports – as Sherlock Holmes would say “when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

Much like the bumbling police in a Sherlock Holmes tale, the RCMP in this story grasp for simple answers instead of investigating the case, blaming the sudden appearance of vinery overgrowing buildings on student pranks and acts of protest. Goldberg critiques the RCMP’s too easy assumptions in recent years that youth culture is linked to acts of rebellion, and their desire to suppress instances of protest as though they are symbols of a decaying society. Her vision of the RCMP reflects the issues of police violence against protestors who are advocating for environmental issues in Canada.

As the Green Goddess’ acts of environmental re-assurgency continue, environmental advocates join her in their pledge to “assist the Green Goddess in her mission to refoliate Nanaimo by whatever means necessary”. Although originally the police had assumed protest, eventually protestors join this environmental cause, seeing the Green Goddess’ actions of refoliation as beneficial for urban spaces.

Despite his assertion that “I am a man of both Talmud and science, neither of which places much store by pagan rituals”, the rabbi begins to see that there is not so much difference between the religious ideologies expressed in the Talmud, the principles of scientific investigation, and the likelihood that the Green Goddess represents a real change rather than an urban legend (particularly when it is reported that the Green Goddess has a series of Hebrew letters inscribed across her forehead that are the same as those that are used in evoking a golem). Moreover, he begins to wonder if the behaviours of this golem are threatening or if the world needs further acts of refoliation.

Goldberg examines the role of faith in modernity, and the interaction between notions of logic and belief. She creates a character whose observation of facts has isolated him from his community and resulted in his expulsion from his own congregation. Using the combination of environmentalism and the discourse of faith and logic, Goldberg explores the idea that modernity leaves many things unquestioned, particularly our assertion that an urban space and notions of progress have ascendency over green spaces and the significance of natural growth. By situating police powers in opposition to assumed (and then eventually real) environmental groups, she calls attention to the need to question government and media images of environmental protestors as violent people and instead suggests that we, as a culture, need protest – we need to question social messages and interrogate how our actions impact the environment.

Although, of course, not named Sherlock Holmes, the rabbinical protagonist of this story shows many similarities to the canonic character from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales. By leading her readers through a similar analysis of the evidence, deep detective work, and psychological insights, Goldberg evokes this figure from literary history and questions the foundations of the idea of logic, reminding her readers of the importance of looking deeper into what appears to be “evidence” rather than accepting the assumptions that are presented.

To find out more about Kim Goldberg, visit http://pigsquash.wordpress.com/ .

Magic, Mazes, and Math

A Review of Ari Goelman’s The Path of Names (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013)

Cover photo courtesy of http://arigoelman.com/blog/

Cover photo courtesy of http://arigoelman.com/blog/

By Derek Newman-Stille

Despite wanting to go to math camp and magic camp, Dahlia is convinced by her parents to attend Jewish camp. It comes complete with everything she would expect – sports, crafts, outdoor activities, friends, Hebrew lessons, and mean girls… and a few things she doesn’t expect – dreams from another person’s memory, sudden knowledge she didn’t possess before, kabbalistic magic, possession, conspiracies, and dead girls. Jewish camp ends up combining the best and worst of math and magic camp with real supernatural events and important magical numbers from kabbalistic literature.

In Ari Goelman’s The Path of Names, Dahlia’s diseffected boredom turns into desperate battle she learns that she needs to solve mysteries both magican and murdrous in order to save her fellow campers. She just wants to be normal, like other kids her age, but she is an outsider not just because she is clever and has an interest in math and magic, but because the magical has an interest in her and the numbers are not in her favour.

Dahlia has to prevent secrets of Judaism from once again being stolen from the Jewish people and used for personal gain.

To read more about Ari Goelman, you can visit his website at http://arigoelman.com/ . To read more about The Path of Names and other Arthur A. Levine Books, you can visit their website at http://www.arthuralevinebooks.com/ .

Montreal Superhero Fights for Diversity

A review of Hochelaga and Sons by Claude Lalumiere (in Objects of Worship,

Cover Photo Courtesy of Claude Lalumiere

Chizine, Toronto, 2009)
By Derek Newman-Stille

I have always thought that Canada needs more superheroes and Claude Lalumiere answered my wishes with Hochelaga and Sons. Hochelaga is a very typically Canadian hero. He is not interested in fighting the big battles of the world, but is interested in working with the ‘little guy’, the underdog.

Hochelaga is a Jewish Montrealer who was experimented on by Nazis during the Holocaust in World War II. The Nazis, in trying to use Jewish people as experiments to eventually create a Nazi race of super-warriors instead accidentally create a Jewish superhero with powers that range from super strength to flight to the ability to learn any language. His multilingual character makes him an ideal hero for the Canadian cultural mosaic, able to speak to the diverse residents of Canada in their own languages. Hochelaga counters the Nazi focus on intolerance with his own interest in being inclusive of diversity and his ability to bring people together.

Hochelaga has two sons, one who inherited all of his superpowers and another who is born with none of his powers. His superheroic son, Bernard, decides to stray from his father’s secular Judaism and instead becomes heavily interested in his own Jewish religion and identity. He finds himself disgusted at the origin of Hochelaga’s powers under Nazi experimentation and does not approve of his father’s use of that power, even if it is to further the quest for diversity. Hochelaga’s son Gordon inherits his father’s interest in the superheroic and envies his brother’s power as much as he is confused by his brother’s disinterest and dislike of that power.  When Hochelaga dies, both sons are called to question their moral positions.

Lalumiere uses his interest in diversity and love of moral questions to create a

Photo of Claude Lalumiere (Appropriately Located In Montreal). Photo by Camille Alexa.

superhero and superheroic story that causes his audience to question what makes a good hero and develop a renewed interest in supporting the underdog. Lalumiere reminds his reader that the battle against intolerance is ongoing and requires constant vigilance.

Explore this and other works by Claude Lalumiere at http://chizinepub.com/ , and visit his website to see what projects he is working on at http://lostmyths.net/claude/ . If you enjoy this superhero story, you may also want to check out the upcoming anthology by Claude Lalumiere and Camille Alexa titled “Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories”. You can find out more about this anthology at http://tychebooks.com/book/masked-mosaic/