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Stephen Harper at Chabad Flamingo 03/26/09

The following story is a classic example of the kind of day-to-day experiences one can expect as a journalist.

It’s been a crazy day, having been out since 6:20 am. After going straight from morning prayers to school, where we spent the whole morning wrapping up the newspaper, I then spent the next few hours trying to get in touch with actors and journalists to interview them for a project due Monday. I finally called it a day around 5:45, catching the GO Bus back home. I usually walk from the GO Station (after the bus lets me off) to another station where I got on another bus – YRT VIVA Purple – which takes me within a ten minute walk from home. The bus goes down Bathurst from Highway 7 to Atkinson (my stop), where  I notice a long line of cop cars right outside Chabad Flamingo, the synagogue right from across my street. The intersection at Bathurst has Worth Blvd. (my street) on one side, and Flamingo Rd. on the other, and right on that corner is the synagogue.

Wondering what’s up, I call home, maybe they know. My sister answers the phone:

“What’s going on outside Chabad Flamingo,” I ask.

“Who’s the most important person in Canada,” my sister responds.

“Umm… the Prime Minister?”

“That’s right, ” she replies sarcastically.

“Wait, are you telling me he’s at Chabad Flamingo?”

“Well done, Tevy. You’ve figured it out.”

After getting off the bus, I rush home and grab my PC to see what time this “event” starts. I discover that Harper was invited by Rabbi Kaplan, who heads the synagogue, to the opening of the expanded wing of the synagogue – and Harper said yes!

It starts at 7 pm. Looking at my watch, it’s 7 pm on the dot. Inhale dinner in 5 minutes, quickly say the afternoon prayers (I know it’s absurd that I’m rushing to a synagogue yet have to pray beforehand), grab camera and recorder and head out.

It’s funny seeing new vehicles parked on your street… I get inside and security is hounding the place. I make my way to the new area where speeches are happening and security is like, Sir, please go upstairs. I go for my media pass, but I realize I don’t have it… No!! It’s okay, I head upstairs, thinking, wait, isn’t it separate seating?

It is, but for the latecomers, they’ve all been gathered into the another room to view the proceedings on a projector. I can’t bloody stand when they do that.

The rabbi goes on giving tons of gratitude to everyone involved in the whole putting together of the event and building, and soon enough, the Prime Minister takes the stage. Now people,  what do you expect Mr. Harper to say in a forum like this… I’m not saying it’s obvious, but I’m pretty sure most of us well-informed Torontonians and Thornhillers know that when it comes to government support of Jews and Israel, we are very fortunate to have Harper in power.

I will say that Harper did look good in his shabbat suit and blue yarmulke (!) At the end of his speech, Rabbi Kaplan gave Harper a big hug, to which Harper afterward put his hand  on his chest and acknowledged the warm reception from the audience.

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That’s when I stepped on the gas and bolted downstairs to catch a glimpse of him leaving. No security issues this time, I walked right in, stepped over and around a few people, knocked a kid in the head with my camera, and did my best to take pictures. In the past I’ve found myself  to be not pushy enough as a journalist to get the photo, but this time I could care less. And I realized how difficult it was because I did not want to make a Chilul Hashem (a desecration of G-d’s name by not acting like a mensch) right in the middle of the synagogue. Just another episode in the saga of covering Jewish events while trying not to get personal about it, even when they’re covered via freelance.

Bolted outside to see him get in his car and leave, took more pictures and than watched as his motorcade bypass the worst intersection in the world.

What a thrill.

Imagine finding out on the spot, the most powerful man in the country is right outside your doorstep (LITERALLY!!) The journalist in me just pounced on that opportunity. I still have much to learn (like how to deal with security, and not forgetting media passes), but I was so pleased and thankful that I was able to experience this unique opportunity.

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