Erica Pinsky



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One of the most gratifying things for me, and the main reason I continue to write these monthly articles, is that I always receive comments from you, my readers and listeners.  A Christmukah story, first posted in December 2007, generated a flood of feedback.  We reposted it in 2009, and again got loads of comments. The article has also been picked up and reprinted in numerous online publications. It remains my most popular post to date.


As you many of you  are new subscribers to  Reflections on the Road to Respect,  I have decided to share this article again this year.


I am so grateful to each and every one of you that has chosen to become a member of the Road to Respect community.  It has been my joy to get to know you, to work with you, and to serve you.  You inspire me to continue working to ignite the respect conversation.


Wishing you and those you cherish respect, love, good health and peace for the holiday season and the New Year.


The Season of Light, Joy and Giving is Upon Us!


I don’t know about you, but my perception is that we seem to hear a lot less about light and joy than we do about giving, and what we hear about giving is that it has to involve shopping.  We are inundated with messages about finding the perfect gift, the perfect place to get all of our holiday shopping done.  I, quite frankly, find  it extremely disturbing.


For many of us, the “giving” part can create huge stress.  It is also a major contributing factor to the ballooning debt problem we are experiencing in Canada.


I feel exceptionally fortunate to live in Canada. We are one of the few nations that is still able to grow enough food to feed ourselves.  We are blessed with bountiful supplies of fresh water.  We have access to a plethora of goods and services, educational and employment opportunities which allow us to pursue our dreams and aspirations.


As we know, the same cannot be said for millions of our fellow humans with whom we share this precious planet.  A steady supply of nutritious food, clean water, access to medical care and education are luxuries many can only dream of.


One of the most hopeful signs I see these days are the increasing  numbers of individuals that are choosing to take action, to find creative ways of giving,  to become part of the solution that will allow us to create a more respectful, equitable, and prosperous world community.  I’ve recently encountered 3 Vancouverites who are joining that movement.  I’d like to introduce them to you as they  offer  new choices to consider for this year’s seasonal giving.


Caroline MacGillivray is the Executive Director and Founder of .  Now in its 11 year, Beauty Night’s mission is to build self-esteem and change lives of women and youth living in poverty through 3 streams of programming: wellness, life skills development and makeovers.


Ms. MacGillvray, a working actor, discovered the power of beauty to boost self-esteem when she was researching for a role in an upcoming film.  Her experience inspired to her start a non-profit society founded on  the belief that  everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that regardless of socio – economic status, no one deserves to be invisible and isolated from community.


To date the organization has provided over 26,000 makeovers on what can only be described as a shoestring budget.  There are numerous ways to give to support their work and change a life.


Kevin Francis is a young man who introduced himself to me after a recent speaking engagement.  Kevin started volunteering at a young age.  It was his most recent experience, working with street kids in India that led  to the creation of Volunteers Without Borders, a non-profit society which aims  to bridge the gap between volunteers and local NGO organizations located internationally that need  help.  “After such a moving experience, helping out became more of an obligation to me than an option. I wanted to start a project where people could continue to give back and help.”  Volunteers Without Borders welcomes everyone and anyone who wants to help make a difference to people who are less fortunate than ourselves.”


Kamala Yonzon grew up in Nepal. where only 1 out of 3 people have access to clean drinking water.  Kamala’s dream is to change that, starting with her home village of Healay Chaubus, where children spend their days carrying water from the closest river rather than going to school.  For $20,000, the cost of a village water tank, the lives of each and every individual in the village can be changed.  Kamala is hoping to raise that amount through The Kamala Yonzon Tahyrali Foundation.


I celebrate the joy that our community can create by our collective choice to give, as I know that many of us do, in ways that go beyond “store bought” items.  We have the power to make a difference.  We can, in the words of Ghandi “be the change we want to see in the world.”

I’d love to hear the stories of how you’re doing that!


 A Christmukah Story


I didn’t grow up celebrating Christmas.  It was “their” holiday.   It wasn’t until I met my late husband that I experienced the “magic” of Christmas; the amazing smell of a living tree, the fun of decorating, the comfort of lights on dark winter evenings, the eggnog, the gingerbread and of course, the chocolate.   I was hooked!


On December 6, 2001 my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He had his first chemotherapy treatment a few days later and spent his last Christmas in a hospital bed. As was his habit, he had already bought the tree, and most of the presents.  He made me promise to have Christmas as usual for our five year old daughter. I will never forget being in our basement on Christmas Eve, after having put out the milk and cookies for Santa, crying and wrapping, lamenting,


“I can’t do this! What do I know about this?  I’m Jewish.”


Although my husband has been dead for almost 11 years, we still celebrate Christmas, along with all of the Jewish holidays.  I make dinner on Christmas Eve, and have the same family friends over every year. A number of years ago, when I called my friend to ask what her daughter wanted for Christmas, she said, “you will never believe what she put on her Christmas list this year – a dreidel and gold coins.”


The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah occurs each year some time in December. Playing dreidel is a traditional Hanukkah game.  A dreidel is a spinning top and depending on where it lands you either get a pile of gold chocolate coins (or money) or you have to put some of your own stash into the pot.  My friend’s daughter had so much fun playing dreidel at our house the year before she asked for one so she could play at home.


I decided that not only would the kids play dreidel, but we would incorporate some Hanukkah foods into our traditional Christmas dinner.  Instead of mashed potatoes, I served latkes.  Latkes are potato pancakes, aka round hash browns.  And for dessert, along with the Christmas goodies, we served sufganyot – an Israeli jelly doughnut, another Hanukkah treat.


My father-in-law, who is German, commented that the latkes seemed like kartoffelpuffer and the doughnuts like Berliner phantkuchen, both of which he had eaten as a boy in Germany.   Another friend contributed a French baguette.  I ate the entire meal with chopsticks, which has been my habit since I first tried them at the age of seven.


I have to say that one of the things I like most about celebrating Christmas is that it allows me to feel included.  It is no longer “their’ holiday.  Now it is my holiday too. I can participate in the fun and the excitement of the season.   I can talk to strangers on the street about getting the tree up, the shopping, and the wrapping.  It has created a larger community for me.


I share a story in Road to Respect  about an experience I had  number of years ago when  delivering Respectful Workplace training to a group of municipal employees.   I was talking about how human rights is about the recognition of differences and the balancing of rights.  One participant commented that, in her opinion, the balance was getting skewed in the “wrong” direction.  Now, this is a comment I hear quite often.  I asked her if she could share an example of what she meant.  She said that she was really upset because the municipality had decided that employees could no longer say Merry Christmas, as that might offend some of their clients.  Of course, she wanted to know “if they could do that.”  In the discussion that followed, it became obvious that this was an issue that had touched a nerve for a lot of people, regardless of ethnicity.


This is an example of what can go wrong in the well intentioned interest of recognizing difference and wanting to be respectful of that difference.  It is true that not everyone in our multi-cultural country celebrates Christmas - and it is important to acknowledge that.  However, in the workplace, this acknowledgment must be part of a broader, clearly communicated strategy to promote a respectful, inclusive culture. In a Canadian workplace, this culture clearly includes a celebration of Christmas.  If that is not recognized, an employer risks promoting divisiveness and alienation rather than inclusion and acceptance.


In this situation, I heard anger expressed.  Anger at their employer, and, unfortunately, anger at the “clients” that were the reason for the employer’s decision.  The employer’s intentions had backfired.


Why were these employees angry?  Anger is a secondary emotion, often masking anxiety, frustration or fear.  And fear is front and center when we talk about issues like discrimination and harassment.   “I had not been raised by mother to be prejudiced,” writes American Suzie Humphreys, “So how did I become one of the Americans gasping about racial blending?  Fear, of course.  Isn’t that what’s at the root of all hatred?  Fear that someone else will take what’s mine, or get my place in line, or take away my values and force theirs upon me or you.”1


Certainly the goal of the employer that imposed the “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” rule was to show awareness and respect to those Canadians who don’t celebrate Christmas.  This intention should be recognized and applauded.  However, in adopting a policy which said staff could no longer wish their clients “Merry Christmas”, this employer inadvertently pushed the fear button.  This type of approach does not encourage an accepting and welcoming attitude.  Instead, it risks planting the seeds of fear which may sprout as prejudice.  It encourages an “us versus them” attitude, where “they” are seen as the group that is threatening to change our lives, our culture and our traditions.


The Canadian constitution embodies the values of tolerance, fairness, justice and mutual respect.  Our goal is to use these values to guide us in creating an inclusive society that recognizes difference and seeks to accommodate those differences.   So what does accommodation of difference look like when it comes to holiday celebrations?


In the December/January “holiday season” some employees may celebrate Christmas.  Some employees may celebrate Hanukah.  Some may celebrate Bodhi Day,  Eid-Ul-Adha, Oshogatsu, or the Birthday of Guru Gobind Singh.   In a multi-cultural environment, it is respectful and appropriate to demonstrate awareness of all of these different holidays and to acknowledge them.  An employer can easily find out about these holidays through a multi-faith calendar, which is available on-line.


I was speaking with a client who told me that she was involved in a workplace committee whose task was to find a number of different holidays that were reflective of the employee population.  The committee then organizes events to recognize these different holidays and promote awareness about their associated rituals traditions, and foods.


Another client shared with me how her organization had celebrated Halloween by bringing in pumpkins for employees to carve.  She said that for some of the employees from different cultures, this was their first time carving a pumpkin. And they loved it!


These types of activities help to build trust and familiarity between employees.  They help to calm the fears of those that are worried about “us” versus “them.”   If employers want to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that diversity provides, they must build a larger, more inclusive group of “us” in our workplaces.  They must build camaraderie amongst a diverse employee group that will offer a broad spectrum of creative ideas and skills to contribute to the business.


I do not believe that the fact that I celebrate Christmas in any way diminishes my identity as a Jew.  Rather, it has promoted commonality with others, while encouraging a renewed interest in my own ethnic traditions and culture.


According to Patricia Digh, co-founder of The Circle Project, an America consulting group which focuses on diversity issues, “Teaching students about frog anatomy by exposing them to the dissection of frogs does not make students more frog-like. So getting employees to read and think about perspectives other than their own does not mean that they will reject their own culture. It just means that they will be richer human beings knowing something about the perspectives of others.”2


In a respectful workplace culture, the goal is to promote respect for, and recognition of, the unique differences that each individual employee brings to the workplace.  Adopting a proactive strategy to acknowledge and learn about each other’s traditions and celebrations provides employers with a wonderful opportunity to foster more harmonious, collaborative, and productive work relationships.  These types of relationships will translate into bottom line results and give employers the competitive edge that they need in today’s diverse and competitive labour market.


1 Suzie Humphreys, If All Else Fails, Laugh!  (Fredericksburg: Tivydale Press, 2005) (Suzie Humphreys is a speaker I had the privilege of hearing.   If you ever have an opportunity to be in Suzie’s audience, run, don’t walk to get a seat. )

2 Lin Grensing-Pophal, “Opportunities in Diversity Training”, Society for Human Resource Management,   SHRM Online, June, 2006


"Our company recently implemented a Respectful Workplace training program. While researching and developing the program I discovered Erica’s book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. After reading it I realized that the information and guidance contained in the book would provide real value to our organization, so I distributed copies to the entire leadership team. For those organizations committed to building a respectful workplace, Road to Respect: Path to Profit is a must read."

Pauline Johnson
Envirotest Canada